people 65 and over. Back then, some called it a government takeover of healthcare. Some
called it socialism and socialized medicine. Critics claimed it resembled central planning
similar to the Soviet Union and violated the free market principles our nation was founded
upon. At that time, the American Medical Association was completely opposed and predicted
the proposal would drive doctors out of business. That proposal became what we have come
to know as Medicare.
Today, no politician or political party would suggest abolishing Medicare. In fact, no one
can imagine a healthcare system without this provision for senior citizens. Ironically, in this
recent round of healthcare debates regressives actually claimed Medicare as their own idea.
The same Medicare they once opposed, they now take on the mantle of "protecting" (more
Recently, predictions about the death of direly-needed healthcare reform were legion.
You couldn't find a pundit or talking head who hadn't proclaimed its demise at least two or
three times. They claimed it was dead after the "summer of discontent" when their "smart"
political strategy turned town hall meetings into bite-sized versions of the Jerry Springer
Show. It was dead when not finished by Labor Day, dead because Obama spent too much
time courting Republican votes, dead when Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts to
Ted Kennedy's old seat, dead when the issue of abortion raised it's pointy head. The corporate
media had more wakes than the Irish during the potato famine, and more post-mortems than
a big city coroner on a hot Saturday night.
One of the lessons from fourteen months of debate ought to be how poorly the corporate
media performed its function as a political barometer. If the National Weather Service's
predictions failed as often, it would be out of business.
In spite of the diversion, the President has now signed into law the most sweeping piece
of progressive social legislation in 45 years. It will expand health insurance to 32 million
Americans who previously had no access before. If you lose your job and health insurance,
you cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. As soon as the bill was signed,
no child could be denied care due to a previous illness. Your children can stay on your policy
until they are 26. If you employ under 50 people, you will get tax credits to enable you to
provide them with health insurance. If you work 30 or more hours a week (Walmart anyone?),
you are now considered "full-time" for the purposes of qualifying for employer-based health
insurance. Companies with over 50 employees are now required to provide health insurance.
Senior citizens facing the "donut hole", a provision of the Medicare Prescription Drug Program
which required seniors to pay thousands of dollars for drugs once a cost threshold had been
reached, has been closed. Families who make $88,000 a year or less will get tax subsidies
to help defray the cost of health insurance. Individual customers will now be able to join
risk pools to get affordable coverage. Millions of dollars for "pilot" programs will be available
to find new ways to deliver quality healthcare for less cost; and if history is any guide, many
of these programs will end up improving services and lowering costs in unimagined ways.
And as a bonus, twenty thousand new doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals will be
needed to serve the millions of previously underserved and new patients.
This is a huge victory for President Obama. In the East Room of the White House he
proclaimed "...this is what change looks like". History will declare Obama the winner; but
it will also note the key role House Speaker Nancy Pelosi played. Reports are already
surfacing that it was Pelosi who demanded Obama not scale back the legislation after Scott
Brown's victory. It was Pelosi who pushed back against Rahm Emanuel, who wanted any
"cheap" victory he could achieve. It was Pelosi who came up with a way to use the Senate
version and keep the heat on Harry Reid in the Senate. It was Pelosi who engineered the
Presidential executive order which satisfied abortion opponents, enabling the legislation
to pass. I confess, I have been critical of Pelosi on how badly she managed issues like the
Iraq War, torture, the immunity granted to the telecom companies who illegally spied on
their customers, the bankruptcy legislation, and her refusal to meet with her own constituents;
but, in my opinion, she has now solidified her place as one of the most effective Speakers in
Regressives say they will mount a campaign to make the 2010 midterm elections a
referendum on this new healthcare legislation. I say, bring it on! GOP Chairman Michael
Steele has already sent out a fundraising appeal claiming that with enough new regressives
winning election to the House, they can regain control and repeal this affront to all that is
dear to this nation. Expect Republicans to trumpet that a vote for them is a vote to repeal
this legislation. It's an interesting strategy. Vote for a Republican and see a return to the
discrimination of pre-existing conditions. Vote GOP and have your kids kicked off your
insurance. Put a Republican in the House and seniors will have to pay thousands of dollars
for drugs they don't have to pay for now. Return control of the House to Republican John
Boehner and add tens of thousands of dollars to the overhead of your small business. Vote
regressive and drop 32 million Americans from the health insurance rolls. It is my hope they
are serious about painting the contest as a choice between rolling back these benefits or
maintaining the status quo.
Taking a moment of calm reflection, there is, however, one aspect of this entire debate
which has me baffled. Contained in this bill are tax increases, mandates requiring all
Americans to purchase health insurance, possible changes in some Medicare procedures,
and numerous other provisions that are both contentious or unpopular with some Americans.
Yet, the one provision which has constantly had overwhelming support with the American
people, the one idea which has garnered more than a 50% majority in every poll over the
past fourteen months, the one concept which Americans totally embraced, the Public Option,
was dropped without a fair-thee-well. I thought the majority ruled. How is it that of all the
contentious provisions passed, the one truly popular idea which would have created
competition and driven prices down was abandoned? I don't have an answer and it troubles
me. Unless...was this the key back room trade off?
This is a great victory for my children. This is a great victory for progressives. This is
what progress looks like. America has taken a step towards delivering healthcare like the
rest of the industrialized world. We are a step closer to the day when no American will live
in fear of getting sick, no American will lose their home to pay for healthcare, no American
will have to work for lower wages in order to preserve employer-based health insurance, no
American will avoid going to the doctor out of fear of what might be discovered, no parent
will have to lose a child because they couldn't afford healthcare.
Social Security, Medicare, Labor Laws, clean water, clean air, safe food and drugs, and
now expanded healthcare to all Americans; this is what progress looks like. Representative
James Clyburn of South Carolina called this the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century; and I
agree. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to