The U.S. House of Representatives has passed President Barack Obama's historic health-care bill, in a landmark vote to extend health insurance to millions of Americans.

A total of 219 Democrats voted in favour of the legislation, which will overhaul the U.S. health-care system and provide health care coverage to millions of Americans currently without it.

For the bill to pass, the Democrats needed 216 votes. A total of 212 congressmen voted against the plan.

"We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things," Obama said in televised remarks following the vote. "We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people."

He had watched the vote unfold in the White House's Roosevelt Room, along with Vice-President Joe Biden and Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. They cheered when the bill passed.

Obama made health-care reform his top domestic priority, and postponed scheduled foreign visits because of Sunday's vote.

The victory came late Sunday after Obama convinced a handful of holdouts within his own party to come onside. In exchange for their votes, Obama offered the lawmakers assurances that federal funds would not be used for elective abortions.

National health care has been a goal of presidents past but has proved elusive, in part because suspicion of a strong central government and determined self-reliance remain high in the U.S.

Congress convened at 1 p.m. Sunday for the three votes. The first was a vote on a "rule" to establish debate guidelines. Around 10:45 p.m., Congress passed the Senate-checked health-care reform bill. The bill will now head to the president to be signed into law.

As the hour of the historic vote approached Sunday, Democratic leaders said their party was poised to win the vote. But they admitted that there were still a handful of members from whom commitment was needed.

"There are still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds," House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said on NBC's "Meet the Press" earlier Sunday. The holdouts numbered "in the low single digits," he said.

"We think there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll," he said. For the bill to pass, 216 votes are needed.

Rep. Bart Stupak was among a few Democrats who remained reluctant to sign onto the health bill out of abortion concerns.

However, Obama put those worries to rest by agreeing to issue an executive order to clarify the plan's language and state that elective abortions would not get funding. Stupak -- along with a handful of other Democrats who had been holding out -- agreed to support the legislation.

Republicans were vehemently opposed to the bill.

The lead-up to the vote reached a raucous level Saturday and Sunday with speeches and demonstrations on both sides.

Obama addressed House Democrats at the Capitol Saturday, urging them to vote for the bill, not for themselves or for the Democratic Party, but for the Americans without health care who need it.

"It is in your hands," he said. "It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow."

As Obama made his way to Capitol Hill, his motorcade passed hundreds of protesters gathered there.

Chants of "Kill the bill" rang out. Protesters held signs reading "Stop the spending" and "Get your hands out of my pocketbook and health care."

Many booed and held their thumbs down as the president drove by.

The protesters' presence did not go unnoticed by the Republicans.

"The American people are making their voices heard, here on Capitol Hill and across America," House Republican Leader John A. Boehner said in his weekly address. "It's time for Washington Democrats to listen."

The 10-year, $940-billion legislation has been more than a year in the making. It will extend health care coverage to approximately 32 million Americans who have none. The bill will also prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over 10 years.

With files from The Associated Press