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Students, staff react to passing of health care bill

Aaron Steiner and Sarah Mervosh | Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Notre Dame College Democrats celebrated a long-awaited victory Sunday after spending months making more than 6,000 phone calls to area residents, asking them to express their support to health care reform to Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat.

Donnelly voted “yes” on the health care reform legislation, which passed in the House of Representatives Sunday by a 219-212 vote. President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign the bill today. 

William Evans, an economics professor at Notre Dame with an expertise in health economics, said the legislation marks “extensive change” on a number of fronts.

“Any way you slice it, a trillion dollars over 10 years is a chunk of change,” Evans said, referring to the estimated increase in government expenditures.

Evans said the bill will result in a “fairly substantial increase in government provision of medical care.”

While it won’t provide universal coverage, as some have suggested, Evans said more Americans will have health insurance.

“It’s clear that insurance enrollment is going to go up as a result of this … and the number of uninsured is going to go down,” he said.

The positives and negatives of reform have been fiercely debated, mostly along partisan lines, but Evans said he sees both good and bad in the legislation. He pointed to aggressive moves to control Medicare costs as a positive change but said those who are concerned about the high cost are “rightfully worried.”

But for the College Democrats, the bill’s passage was seen as completely positive.

“The College Democrats are celebrating a victory for justice,” said junior Chris Rhodenbaugh, co-president of the College Democrats. “We are proud that the Congress, in particular Joe Donnelly, listened to the voices of the American people and did what is right for the future of our country.”

Meanwhile, Notre Dame College Republicans are lamenting the passing of the bill — one that did not garner a single Republican vote in the House.

“The economic and medical future of our country has been compromised,” said senior Erika Hagstrom, president of the College Republicans. “We will not be able to go back, and college students like those of us at Notre Dame will be paying for it for the rest of our lives — fiscally and physically.”

Rhodenbaugh said the bill’s main strengths are that it will not discriminate based on preexisting conditions while getting more healthy people into the health care system and focusing more on preventing illness, rather than on treating the uninsured once they get sick.

“That’s where huge cost savings come in,” he said.

Rhodenbaugh also said the bill will benefit college students by allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old.

Roughly 28 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are currently uninsured, Evans said.

Hagstrom said a primary concern is that the bill will be a detriment to the country’s already weak economy.

“The bill will increase costs which is the last thing we should be doing in this economy,” she said.

Hagstrom also said she is against the bill’s language regarding abortion, which has been heavily debated as lawmakers, Catholic organizations and pro-life groups disagree whether the bill would allow federal funding for abortion.

Donnelly, a pro-life Democrat, was one of a handful of representatives who withheld their support for the bill until a last-minute deal was struck with the president, who agreed to sign an executive order to prohibit federal money from funding abortions.

Still, some groups, including pro-life groups, have said the executive order is not a sufficient guarantee that federal money won’t able to fund abortions.

“I, along with Republicans, agree that it is immoral and wrong to force taxpayers who may be pro-life to pay for abortions,” Hagstrom said.

Rhodenbaugh said he believes the bill as it was passed will not fund abortions.

“The Senate bill won’t fund abortion and the House bill won’t fund abortion,” he said. “Abortion will not be paid for in this bill.”

Rhodenbaugh said the bill is actually quite pro-life and Catholic.

“From a Catholic perspective, [we] should be working to pursue universal health care and treat health care as a right. It’s about the dignity of the whole life from birth all the way until death,” Rhodenbaugh said. “And health care is a huge part of that.”