It took a whole day to sink in. After watching the final vote late Sunday, I jumped off the couch and cheered the passage of the national health care reform bill by the U.S. House of Representatives, 219-212, for a few minutes, then off to bed to get some sleep ahead of a busy day.
It was a typically-busy day. Meetings in the district and at the State House, emails, returning calls from constituents on various local issues, and lunch with seniors at the Southborough Council on Aging. As I ran from meeting to meeting, I didn’t have much time to think about what had happened the night before.
It wasn’t till the end of the day, talking with some of my staff, that I had a chance to really think about what had happened less than twenty-four hours before. We had passed health care reform -what the pundits had been saying was virtually dead since the eve of January 19th. And not just incremental changes to health care, but a dramatic, historic, life-changing expansion of health care that — while not totally overhauling the broken health care system — would go great lengths in providing health insurance for tens of millions more Americans.
Though it wasn’t the Medicare-for-All (single-payer) system I believe we eventually should move towards, the details of the bill are exciting. Health insurance coverage for 32 million more Americans, including expanding Medicaid for people with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL), and health care exchanges offering health insurance for families up to 400 % of the FPL. Reducing prescription drug costs for seniors facing the “doughnut hole”, including 80,700 seniors in Massachusetts. Increasing Medicaid reimbursements for primary care physicians and more spending on community health centers, while moving away from the privatization of Medicare through shifting funding from Medicare Part C to Parts A and B.
It was an incredibly happy moment, to think of all of those Americans who will begin receiving health insurance coverage over the next few years. That despite all of the rancor over the past 15 months over the need (or, in the minds of some, lack of need) for health care reform, the rubber now hits the road, and many, many people across the country will be more secure in their lives. If they happen to become sick, get in a car accident, or need an operation, the likelihood that they will be able to access the care they need is much, much greater.
When I got home, as I did my physical therapy exercises for my shoulder, I thought about some of the men and women I got to know while I was recovering from own health care emergency at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, a little less than six months ago. While many of these patients had the same excellent health care that I did — which won’t be affected by the national health care reform that passed on Sunday night — there were also patients who were cut off from receiving the therapy they needed to properly recover and were sent home early. There were patients who didn’t have a primary care physician to check in with during their recovery. These less well off individuals were much more likely to have the same health insurance coverage that I was lucky enough to have.
Reading (and watching) the news coverage of the previous day’s events, I noticed the focus was all about who voted for the bill, who voted against, a possible primary challenge to U.S. Congressman Steven Lynch, and Republicans’ plans to somehow repeal the bill as soon as they possibly could. But this obsession with the politics of health care didn’t change my enthusiasm and hope about what had happened on Sunday night. As Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times editorial, “Fear Strikes Out.”
There is no doubt there are still some significant battles ahead for Americans, including here in Massachusetts, for transformative, universal health care reform. Despite the passage & signing of this law, health care is still not a right, health care costs will still be too expensive, and some Americans will still not receive the health care coverage they deserve. There is already a growing coalition of stakeholders in Massachusetts focused on filing legislation next session that tries to reach these goals for Massachusetts residents, which I am proud to be taking a lead on.
But the reality is that soon, millions more of Americans will be more secure in their lives, can take better care of their families, and will have less to fear, because of a bold act by Congress, and the courageous leadership of a visionary president. Not a bad way to start the week.