Still looking for a reason to vote? Here’s a three word answer: health care reform. I’m not sure why Democrats aren’t running on it, but it’s a big step towards "change we can believe in" — the kind that some 66,882,230 (53% of the popular vote compared to Bush’s 47.9% in 2000 and 50.7% in 2004) voted for in 2008. Parts of it are already in effect and making a difference in live of millions of Americans, and some of its biggest changes — expanding coverage to millions of Americans, lowering costs to seniors, and prohibiting some of the insurance industry’s worst practices — are yet to come.
That’s why the GOP is promising to do all it can to repeal health care reform, take away the benefits Americans already enjoy, and block future benefits. That’s also why health care reform has to be defended. It represents not only change we can believe in, but change we still believe in.
The health care reform legislation congressional Democrats passed and President Obama signed into law on March, 23, 2010, was, as vice president Biden aptly put it, "a big f***ing deal." It represented change that Americans have waited almost a century for, and response to the urgent needs of millions of Americans.
- In 2007, when then candidate Obama and the Democratic party made health care reform a major campaign issue, some 45 million Americans were uninsured (PDF) — of those, nearly 2 million were veterans, and 8.3 million were children. (One of them was former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s son, who couldn’t afford insurance because his child had a pre-existing condition.)
- Between 2006 and 2007, 89 million Americans under 65 were without health insurance for some of all of both years.
- A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that even children who were insured lacked quality medical care.
- Another 25 million were underinsured, meaning their health insurance provided limited coverage and protection from high medical costs.
- The phrase "medical bankruptcy" became part of the national vocabulary, as 62% of all personal bankruptcies were due to inability to pay medical costs. That amounts to one person filing for bankruptcy due to medical costs every 30 seconds.
- Even the insured were bankrupted by illness, when medical costs exceeded annual or lifetime limits.
- A 2009 Harvard University study determined that more than 45,000 Americans died every year, because they lacked health insurance.
- Americans spent $2.3 trillion annually on health care — at least 2 1/2 times more per person than other advanced countries. Yet, the U.S. was 23 points behind Canada, Japan, Germany, and France — and 46 points behind China, Brazil, and India — in terms of value delivered.
Conservatives, when they held power in both Congress and the White House, never moved to reform health care or answer Americans’ health care related concerns. When they did do something, they lied about the cost of the Bush administration’s Medicare overhaul, suppressed estimates that exceeded the White House estimate by $100 billion, and gave senior citizens a Medicare donut hole that benefited big pharma more than anyone else.
In the absence of a response from the federal level, several states and local governments moved to provide coverage for their residents. In fact, the only other time conservatives rallied around health care during the Bush era was to block states from extending coverage to children. (It wasn’t that conservatives didn’t’ think children should have coverage. It’s just that they only thought children should have coverage if insurance companies profited.)
Health care reform is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans; differences that the GOP had eight years to make, and didn’t. Despite this, Republicans are already running on a pledge to repeal the hope and help that is already reaching millions of Americans, and replace it with more of the same.
Now health care reform and the benefits it has and will extend to millions of Americans face a new threat from Republicans who are campaigning on a pledge to repeal health care reform, and "replace" its benefits with policies and proposals that will benefit insurance companies more than Americans who need access to quality, affordable care.
The GOP’s "Pledge to America" promises to repeal health care reform, and replace it with a an unworkable plan that would not "replace" the benefits of health care reform. The Congressional Budget office says that health care reform will cut the deficit by $140 billion over 10 years. Repealing it will not only increase the deficit, but fail to protect Americans or cover costs. Buying and selling insurance across state lines would allow insurers in states with fewer regulations and consumer protections to sell cheaper, less valuable products that would amount to a "race to the bottom" in health care.
Americans across the political spectrum have consistently supported health care reform. The majority of Americans want to see health care reform expanded, and oppose any attempt to repeal it. Whatever their political strip, all Americans can identify with the having a loved one in need of urgent medical care, or needing care themselves, and understand being afraid of losing coverage and with it access to care.
- Since its passage, health care reform has grown more popular, while opposition has declined. A Kaiser family poll in June 2010 found that 48% of American had a favorable opinion of health care reform, while 41 had an unfavorable opinion — a increase from 41% favorable to 44% unfaforable a month earlier.
- Americans who think health care reform should go further outnumber opponents 2 to 1. A September 2010 AP poll found that 75% of American still want substantial change in the country’s health care system, while only 25% believe little needs to be done.
- A large majority of Americans oppose repealing health care reform. A July 2010 poll by Bloomberg news found that a ful 61% of Americans opposed repealing health care reform, while just 37% support repeal.
Health care reform is already beginning to remove those fears from the lives of millions of Americans, and replace it with and assurance that they and their families will have access to quality, affordable care that can not be taken away from them or denied to them when they need it most.
A number of benefits from the Affordable Care Act have already taken effect.
- Insurance companies may no longer use simple mistakes and typos to deny cancel coverage if a person become ill.
- Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions — from asthma to allergies to old injuries — with the exception of "grandfathered" plans in the individual market.
- Young adults may stay on the their parents insurance up to age 26.
- Insurance companies may no longer limit the amount of coverage available to those who face expensive medical conditions. This will help Americans who develop chronic illnesses.
- Many plans, with the exception of those "grandfathered" plans in the individual market, must phase out annual limits over the next three years.
- Insurance companies must pay for preventative care, such as mammograms and immunizations.
- Insurance companies must improve the appeals process for insurance claims, giving Americans a better process to received benefits they have paid for, but that insurance companies have denied.
- Insurance companies must let Americans choose any available participating physician as their primary care doctor, and any available participating pediatrician as their children’s doctor.
- Insurance companies must provide more direct access to OB-GYN care, instead of requiring women to have referrals from a primary care physician.
- Senior caught in the Medicare "Donut Hole" — where "Part D" beneficiaries pay all of their own prescription costs — will receive a one-time rebate check from Medicare this year.
Health care reform will continue to benefit Americans and expand coverage in the next several years.
- Tax credits will help small businesses cover employees.
- Medicare will provide 10% bonus payments to primary care physicians and surgeons.
- Medicare will cover the full costs of annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plan services.
- A Medicaid program will allow states to offer home and community-based care for disabled Americans who would otherwise receive institutional care.
In the the near future, Americans will benefit even further from health care reform.
- As of 2014, health insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
- In 2014, state health insurance exchanges will open for small businesses and individuals.
- Individuals with income up to 133% of the poverty level will qualify for Medicaid coverage.
- For people with incomes up to 400% of the poverty level, health care tax credits will become available to help them purchase coverage on the exchange.
- By 2019, health care reform will extend coverage to 32 million Americans who would not otherwise be insured.
Yet, the work of health care reform is only beginning. It must be defended against obstruction and attack, in order for Americans to experience all of its benefits. Like other programs that the overwhelming majority of Americans support — such as Social Security — the support for health care reform will continue to grow as more Americans feel its positive impact in their lives:
- Every time children like Houston Tracy, Alex Lange, and Aisilin Bates are not denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time the coverage of someone’s health insurance not rescinded due to a typo or a simple mistake, exploited by insurance companies looking for reasons to cancel the coverage of sick policyholders, support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time people like Alex Pane chronic illness without the fear of lifetime limits or annual caps, support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time people like Lawrence and Claire Yurdin are not bankrupted by illness, support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time people like the family of Athena Dunkin don’t have to resort to washing cars to pay medical bills, support for health care reform will go.
- Every time someone like cancer patient Bette Corbett does not have to put off medical treatment because of cost support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time a cancer patient like Patsy Bates does not have her policy canceled in the middle of chemo, by an insurance company that pays employees bonuses based on how many policies they drop.
- Every time elderly Americans don’t have to skip medicines because of the cost, support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time someone does not have to get married or divorced just to get or keep their health insurance, support for health care reform will grow.
- Every time someone with a pre-existing condition is not denied coverage, support for health care reform will grow.
Every time Americans don’t have to feel anxious about health care for themselves or loved ones, and feel the liberating effect it has on their lives, support for health care will grow. It will grow to the point that they will not stand for anyone trying to take it away. They will refuse to go back to what they knew before.
The opponents of reform know this. That’s why they are desperate to stop health care reform before it improves the lives of millions of Americans. They’ll even shut down the government to do it, if they get the chance.
We must protect health care reform and the benefits it has already begun to extend to Americans, and fight to give health care reform time to change the lives of millions of Americans.
To do that, we’ve got to vote.