Bleeding Hearts Battle Over Bill: Pro
This Might Be Our Last Chance
By David Nahmias
International Editor Emeritus
The health care bill is flawed. There – I said it. Yet the consequences of not passing it are dire. The goal of securing quality, affordable health care for Americans must continually guide us, and the bill serves as a significant stepping-stone toward achieving it. The Democrats will probably have no other opportunity like this to approve progressive health reform, and wasting it will ruin the American health system for decades.
Before the “Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009” entered committee, the public clamored for reform, and a majority of poll respondents consistently accepted the notion of a government plan akin to Medicare to compete with (not supplant) private insurance plans. Yet through prevarication and misinformation, the Republicans capitalized on the public’s fears of what they didn’t understand by disseminating macabre illusions about death panels and socialism that turned into juicy sound bites. They have made no attempt to alter the bill with keeping an eye on the ultimate goal of creating an affordable health care system for all Americans. Just managing to bring the health care bill to a full vote was a feat requiring remarkably filthy tactics (Ben Nelson comes to mind).
Nonetheless, it is essential that the Congress passes health care reform now. If we fail now, then health care will become political taboo. No President will risk reliving the disaster endured by the Democratic caucus after the closest attempt in American history to reform health care ultimately failed. Neither political party even suggested the initiative for years after the “HillaryCare” fiasco. Thus for decades health care costs will continue to spiral out of control, but this time the explosion in entitlement spending could cripple the federal government. Millions of Americans will still lack insurance coverage or be denied benefits due to preexisting conditions. Those who do have it will probably still pay more for quality care than do their peers around the world. The insurance industry will continue to hold the health of the American people hostage.
Throughout history, dramatic social change has taken place in increments. No grand, sweeping national agenda is realized in a day – we try out innovative policies, tinker with them, save the good and scrap the bad. One single speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., did not change American society; the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not instantaneously erase centuries of entrenched segregation and discrimination. It took an entire Civil Rights Movement to transform national norms and attitudes, and numerous pieces of legislation built upon one another to create a body of laws and regulations guaranteeing civil rights. Similarly, today’s current health care bill follows a legacy of Congressional debate and legislative action to create and improve health care. From expansion during the New Deal and the LBJ’s Great Society through Reagan’s Medicare cuts and Clinton’s welfare reform, the American health care system has transformed step-by-step.
Health care reform in 2010 is just another step, albeit a substantial one. Once these regulations are in place, assessments of its progress will commence and eventually spark new ideas, legislation, and change. The goal of quality, affordable health care will not be attained when President Obama signs the bill, but we will be heading in that direction.
Consider the steps that the health care bill takes. Health care reform is fiscally responsible. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office asserts that the House version would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over ten years. The Senate plan also halves Medicare’s annual growth rate of spending per person. In addition, the bill enacts stiffer regulations of the health insurance industry, most importantly by prohibiting insurance companies from denying patients based on preexisting conditions. Yet above all, it expands coverage to 30 million more Americans, leaving only about 7% of the population uninsured. Weren’t these goals all along: to cut costs, regulate the health care industry, and provide nearly universal coverage?
It is imperative that we remember these goals, why Democrats have put their historic majorities on the line in order to pass health care. We weathered vicious attacks and political ploys to arrive at this moment. The recent election of Scott Brown to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat has Democrats in an uproar, but they still must not squander this pivotal opportunity. The health care bill has its flaws and requires further evaluation, but no accurate assessment can be made until the regulations are codified and the system slowly transforms. Though we have not accomplished fundamental objectives of health care reform, with this bill we take the crucial step forward.