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Real reform at last

Anthony Matthew Durkin | Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Last week, by a slim majority vote of 219-212, the House of Representatives passed the most progressive social legislation in decades, sending to President Obama the Senate’s Health Care Reform Bill, which had been passed by the Senate nearly three months ago on Christmas Eve.

On Jan. 19th when a young, little-known Republican State Senator from Massachusetts had overtaken the filibuster-proof seat in the Senate once held by the champion of health care reform, Democrat Edward Kennedy, many predicted health care reform was dead. It seemed that the Obama presidency had failed, spending a good deal of its political capital attempting to get bi-partisan support for its most important domestic policy initiative. The focus of domestic policy in Congress had shifted to the economy and job creation. Yet the Obama administration refused to surrender. After a bipartisan nationally televised summit meeting on Feb. 25 drove the two parties further apart, the White House gambled and urged House Democrats to approve the Senate’s version of the bill and pass changes to the bill through budge reconciliation.

Let’s get some facts straight about this historic bill, which admittedly is less than perfect, but does much to correct the glaring and unconscionable inequities in American health care. The bill will provide coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans who presently cannot afford it. Although the bill will not achieve full universality, by 2019, 95 percent of Americans will be insured. Individuals will be required to obtain health insurance, achieved mostly through subsidies provided to low and middle income individuals and families, enabling them to purchase coverage on newly created exchange markets in each state. It will expand Medicaid to cover 16 million parents and childless adults that are not covered under the current rules. Further, this bill will reform many of the worst practices by insurance companies. Insurers will no longer be able to drop individuals who become ill. They will no longer be able reject applicants on the grounds of “pre-existing conditions.” By 2014, if someone loses their job or has to buy their own policy, they cannot be denied coverage. The legislation will begin to attack the problem of rising premiums, first with the new exchange market, and then in 2018 with a new excise tax to push employers and workers away from high-cost insurance policies. Finally, in a provision that should be of significant interest to everyone on this campus, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions and those who might wish to do service work after graduation, parents can pay an additional fee to keep their children on their policies until age of 26. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill will cost $938 billion over 10 years, while reducing the deficit by $138 billion over that same period.

This historic bill is monumental in many ways. For one, it reflects a continued shift in policy from the Reagan era “laissez-faire” revolution of tax cuts, light regulation of markets and a patchwork social safety net. It also signals something more significant. Democrats, many who put their November re-election on the line, did the right thing and trumped the fear of political backlash from Republicans. They answered “the call of history” and fought a difficult battle to reform a broken and morally unacceptable industry unlike any in other advanced industrial nations. The Democrats scored a monumental victory that will not be forgotten.

As for Republicans, their united opposition to any sort of health care reform should hurt them in the long run, as they continue to earn the nickname, “the party of no.” When the House vote essentially became a vote on the issue of whether federal money would be used to fund abortions, Republicans fought to sway pro-life Democrats to vote in opposition to the bill. Although they won the support of some, they lost the battle with the leader of the pro-life Democrats, Bart Stupak of Michigan, and others like Notre Dame alumnus Joe Donnelly. These pro-life Democrats put their support behind the bill after Obama promised to sign an Executive Order ensuring that no federal money would ever be used to fund abortions. Pro-life Republicans immediately unleashed their anger at Stupak and others, most notably with Randy Neugebauer, a Republican congressman from Texas, going so far as to call Stupak a “baby-killer,” despite the fact that Stupak has been one of the most vocal pro-life voices in Congress since 1992. Further, the Republicans continue their refusal to distance themselves from the Tea Party movement, which is getting increasingly out of hand in its viciousness. Some Republican lawmakers were seen cheering on protesters outside of the Capitol and inside with signs that read “kill the bill.” These same protesters spit on Missouri congressman Emanuel Cleaver and hurled racial and homophobic epithets at others. Violence has continued at members of Congress, with at least four reported acts of vandalism as well as death threats. The ugliness of these acts reveals the power of misinformation in the media on this issue.

In the end, it may and should be the Republicans who will be hurt politically for not supporting this legislation. Once people begin to see the benefits, Democrats will be able to say they achieved the measure without any support whatsoever from Republicans. Regardless, the passage of this legislation made me proud to be an American, being able to witness this historic legislation become law. I am confident that Obama’s remarks will ring throughout the nation; “When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenges. We overcame them. We did not avoid our responsibilities, we embraced it. We did not fear our future, we shaped it.”

Anthony Matthew Durkin is a senior living off campus and double majoring in political science and history. He can be reached at adurkin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.