Originally printed in the Yale Herald, 3/26/10:
“Mr. President, this is a big fucking deal.”
Joe Biden’s whispered excitement, caught on media microphones at the recent health care reform bill signing ceremony, celebrates a historic event for the United States.
After a 219-212 House vote, after a year of heated debate, after 100 years of effort, President Barack Obama signed into law the health care reform bill. Not a single vote in affirmation of the bill came from the Republican Party.
“This is a somber day for the American people,” said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader. “By signing this bill, President Obama is abandoning our founding principle that government governs best when it governs closest to the people.”
While health care has clearly sparked many political passions, recent protests have been downright embarrassing. Racial slurs were chanted at civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one demonstrator spit on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO), while Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) faced insults about his openly gay sexual orientation.
Even congressmen have joined in the inappropriate revelry. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) shouted “Baby killer!” during Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) speech on healthcare reform. Though passions regularly flare over important policy, GOP members associated with these outbursts should be ashamed.
The Republicans have pledged to block the measure, or at least use procedural weapons to delay its final ratification. “We will not allow this to stand,” promised Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a day after the bitterly partisan vote. Already in more than a dozen states, attorney generals have filed lawsuits arguing that measures in the bill are unconstitutional.
The response from Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)? “It is time to chill out, Republicans.”
“Now it is a fact,” declared Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). “Now it is law. Now it is history. Indeed, it’s historic.”
A long time ago, the healthcare reform debate stopped being about health and started being about politics. Countless committees, numerous reforms, many liberals losing hope, and one removed “Cornhusker Kickback” later, a bill has been signed into law that may finally offer improvements to our nation’s failing health system.
The bill does not include a public option that would allow people to opt into a cheaper health insurance plan provided by the federal government (one of the more liberal proposals advocated for by Democrats and Obama since the beginning of the debate), but still includes some important reforms. The bill is expected to cost some 940 billion dollars, but an additional 32 million Americans will finally receive healthcare insurance.
In addition to the expansion of the Medicaid benefit cutoff to four times the level of poverty (88,200 dollars for a family of four), federal drug benefits will improve. Children can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until a later age. Subsidies are provided to small businesses to help cover insurance costs. Coverage cannot be denied based on preexisting conditions. Out-of-pocket expenditures will be capped. Individual mandates will force everyone to buy insurance or pay a penalty fee. Many of these changes, however, will be gradual and won’t occur until 2014.
If you have coverage now, there won’t be many changes next year. In fact, if Republicans make substantial gains in the next elections, some of these provisions could be legislated out of existence before they even have a chance to take effect.
Obama said it best: “This is major reform. This is not radical reform.” The signing is only a small incremental step in getting America to where it needs to be. The lack of a public option does not mean this bill is a failure, but it does mean that it is lacking. Only with a public option can the government most effectively provide adequate welfare to the poor and the sick. Insurance companies have a long history of unjustifiable profits—profits that come from refusing care to the sick and exploiting those with preexisting conditions.
The bill isn’t perfect: It’s only gradual change, and it lacks a public option. But it is the first step in addressing the health disparity in our country. It’s the first step in creating a country of healthy individuals. It’s the first step in acknowledging that everyone deserves affordable access to care.
For all the hurdles that came with the push for reform, in the immortal words of Joe Biden, it’s a big fucking deal.