Monday, March 22, 2010

Just What Got Passed, Anyway?

My inboxes are flooded this morning. My personal email address has thank you's from the president, an exhortation from the BoldProgressives to "hit the Blue Dogs" for their blocking of a public option, a celebration of the Working Families Party's success in helping get a local Blue Dog to vote "aye", and an email from my guy's mom checking on his recovery.

My work inbox, a nonpartisan address, has a letter from NY's governor applauding the passage of health care, a blistering attack from NOW NY on the president's executive order which they say could be used by a hospital to deny a rape victim contraception as part of her post-attack treatment.

There are letters from all the local congressional reps announcing their vote, with the funny part being that reluctant, late-to-the-game Blue Dog announcing his "yes" vote in an ALL CAPS SUBJECT LINE. He wants you to know he got your emails and phone calls.

There a note from an insurance conference pointing out the incredible importance of the health insurance industry to New York's economy. There's a vitriolic letter from the National Republican Committee Conference lambasting one of those local congressmen, referring to him as a " loyal lapdog" who put politics first and his constituents second.

It has become such a mess, such a muddle, that I doubt any of us outside of Washington fully understand what was being debated this weekend. I'm going to try to figure out the big picture.

Here's what I just found on The Daily Beast: "Health-care reform may have been historic, but many of its biggest reforms won't take place for at least a couple of years. So what does the health-care bill change right now? Crooks and Liars has assembled a handy list of immediate changes. After President Obama signs the bill, children will be able to stay on their parents' health insurance until their 27th birthdays. No child under 19 will be excluded from plans because of preexisting conditions. It will eliminate caps on how much care you can get in one year. Adults with preexisting conditions will be able to start shopping online for a plan in a national high-risk pool while waiting for insurance exchanges to get started. Small business can deduct as much as 50 percent of employees' health benefits for tax purposes in 2009 and 2010. It will fill in the "donut hole" of Medicare prescription drug coverage with a rebate. Insurers will have to post their balance sheets online, listing administrative costs, executive compensation packages, and benefit payments. And you can no longer be dropped from your insurance plan just because you get sick."

And there's a letter from Michael Moore to both addresses, explaining what he believes the new bill means. He sees it as a victory for US citizens over corporate interests and a good start on a decent health care system, but far from perfect. In fact, before endorsing it, he admitted this was one pretty weak piece of legislation. But it's a foot in the door.

Here's what the NRCC says...and I quote (eliminating the attacks on the guy who voted for it): This is..."a bill that fails to lower the cost of healthcare," ...creates " hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes, Medicare cuts, runaway spending and unprecedented government control,"..."this toxic bill will negatively impact small businesses that are struggling to hire in the midst of a tough economic climate."

Here's Michael Moore's letter (with some of the GOP bashing cut where it adds no information - you can read the whole thing at the link): "Thanks to last night's vote, that child of yours who has had asthma since birth will now be covered after suffering for her first nine years as an American child with a pre-existing condition.

Thanks to last night's vote, that 23-year-old of yours who will be hit one day by a drunk driver and spend six months recovering in the hospital will now not go bankrupt because you will be able to keep him on your insurance policy.

Thanks to last night's vote, after your cancer returns for the third time -- racking up another $200,000 in costs to keep you alive -- your insurance company will have to commit a criminal act if they even think of dropping you from their rolls.

If it's any consolation, the thieves who run the health insurance companies will still get to deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions for the next four years. They'll also get to cap an individual's annual health care reimbursements for the next four years. And if they break the pre-existing ban that was passed last night, they'll only be fined $100 a day! And, the best part? The law will require all citizens who aren't poor or old to write a check to a private insurance company. It's truly a banner day for these corporations.

So don't feel too bad. We're a long way from universal health care. Over 15 million Americans will still be uncovered -- and that means about 15,000 will still lose their lives each year because they won't be able to afford to see a doctor or get an operation. But another 30,000 will live. I hope that's ok with you.

If you don't mind, we're now going to get busy trying to improve upon this bill so that all Americans are covered and so the grubby health insurance companies will be put out of business -- because when it comes to helping the sick, no one should ever be allowed to ask the question, "How much money can we save by making this poor bastard suffer?"

A Daily News poll online this morning asks if you believe America is better off today than yesterday. The No votes are edging the Yeses by six percent. But Mike Lupica wrote a stirring column lauding the fact that when push finally came to shove, the president stood on his principles, telling House Democrats that this was a moment when they could do what they came to Washington to do, vote for a change that makes things better. I believe that is the aim of this bill.

It's not a great bill, not by any measure. But it moves toward reforming a system that is going to bankrupt us. It moves toward assuring health care for every citizen which is, in the long run, not only the human thing to do, but the fiscally responsible thing to do. We cannot afford to care for the growing number of uninsured by forcing hospitals to treat them in emergency rooms. We need to create a system that reflects reality. I believe this bill is a step toward that.

According to a San Diego political commentator, the only impact this will have on us, the regular people, is creating a state-based exchange with subsidies for four years. A separate exchange will be created for small businesses.

People and families with income over 250 thousand dollars a year will pay an extra 3.8 percent tax on investment income. And in 18 years, insurance companies will pay a hefty 40% excise tax on insurance plans over 27 thousand dollars. I'm not seeing a problem here yet.

What I see as the result of this bill is a step through a door that has, until now, been closed. With the passage of this bill, there is opportunity to fine tune it, to tailor it, to create a plan that not only stops the devastating escalation of insurance costs and health care costs, but extends basic health coverage to every American.

I won't argue compassion to Conservatives. That's not what moves them. I will argue fiscal responsibility.

I listened to David Walker, the author of Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility during one of my drives back and forth the hospital last week. He's a sane man. He's knowledgeable and he knows government from the inside. He was Comptroller General of the United States and CEO of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) from 1998 to 2008. And he is convinced that, without significant reform, health care will bankrupt us. Of course, we're doing plenty of other things that will bankrupt us, too, but health care as we've been doing it is number one.

So the door is open. We've got something to work with now. And the motiviation to work on it.

Screaming about a government takeover of health care, spreading fear, will not contribute to improving this bill. Of course that's what will happen...screams, lies, doubt that horrific "death panel" garbage will rear its disgusting head, too.

I give up on hoping for civil dialogue. That's not how Washington works. But I demand progress from my elected officials, I demand the very best health care reform they can design that benefits the public, does not unrealistically enrich the corporations and reverses the growing debt load we're handing off to our children and grandchildren.

That's your assignment, Washington. Congrats on doing something. Now shut up and get to work.


JamaGenie said...

The fear tactics used to delay (or prevent) health care reform are much the same as those before the Civil Rights Bill was passed in the 1960s. Too bad Lyndon Johnson didn't have the foresight to include universal health care in it because UHC is just as much a right as being able to sit at the front of the bus.

I have no idea what passed yesterday, but it's not law yet, and still gives the "insurance" industry plenty of wiggle room. A $100 fine for illegally refusing or dropping coverage? What a joke!

pinkpackrat said...

I'm not sure what passed either, Susan and thanks for your clarity on this -- it isn't over till it's over and as Jama points out, we've got miles to go.

What passed,is in some ways, a bonanza for the Insurance industry as people will be mandated to buy insurance. I only hope that corporate greed can be controlled by government oversight. We shall see

ArtSparker said...

It's a move in the direction of responsibility and taking the long view, I think.

Maureen@IslandRoar said...

Thank you, this helped clear many things up. I agree, a foot in the door. Now we have to sit back and listen to the ranting...

Reya Mellicker said...

Great recap of everyone's opinions. Truth is, no one knows how it's going to all fall out and there is no doubt that it will need major revisions and reforms in order to actually be put into use.

What I think is important to take note of today is that SOMETHING HAPPENED. The inertia of change has been pushed into gear. That makes many things possible.

What is perfection? It doesn't exist, particularly in terms of Congressional legislation. But it's something.

I feel sad about all the immediate nitpicking. Can't we celebrate this historic vote even for one day? Sheesh.

Susan said...

Thanks for all your thoughts. I saw a poll last night indicating that those polled were evenly split on whether this event was good or bad news. But I think much of that concern is that we just don't know enough about it. And that surprises me, as if there's one thing this president has proven to have is an effective outreach machine.
Time to kick it into high gear and let us know what this is all going to mean and why he considered it an important bill, one important enough to risk his political future (as well as that of his fellow Dems) on.
Taking a gamble this big wasn't done idly.

Pauline said...

You said that so well! Forward it on to all your state representatives!