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Health Reform: Feeling Better Already

“. . . what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” —Senator Edward M. Kennedy [1] to President Obama

“We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed.” —House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [2], press conference, Jan. 28

We’re almost there. Last night the House of Representatives voted 219–212 [3] for the health care reform legislation that was passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve, along with a separate, amending bill of “fixes” to fine-tune the Senate bill. President Obama will sign the House-approved Senate bill tomorrow, and the Senate, we hope, will soon pass the “fixes” without a single word changed, via budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority (at least 51 votes). (Reconciliation process explained here [4].) Even without the fixes, however, with the president’s signature the Senate+House bill becomes the law of the land. (Click here [5] to see 11 hours of debate distilled into 10 minutes of hi-lites and lo-lites.)

The House’s amendments would cover 32 million of the uninsured by 2019 (the Senate’s would cover 31 million), and would cut deficits by $138 billion over the first 10 years ($118 billion under the Senate bill) and by over $1 trillion in the following decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office [6]. The House bill would also increase the subsidies to help low- and middle-income people afford health insurance and would do more to close the so-called donut hole, the gap in Medicare coverage for prescription drugs. For an additional fee, parents will be able to be able to keep adult dependent children on their health insurance plans up to the age of 26—great news for young people having trouble finding a job.

Affordable Health Care for America

“. . . soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will—yes, we will—fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.”Senator Kennedy [1] to President Obama

Among many other reforms, the House bill will achieve the following:

Click here [7] for further House improvements on the Senate bill, and here [8] for provisions that take effect immediately.

[9]

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Wishing Senator Kennedy could be here today—and certain that he is watching all of this with pride from a higher place—we reprint the text of his letter to President Obama [1], of which excerpts are quoted above:

May 12, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me—and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.

On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.

You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.

When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me-and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.

There will be struggles—there always have been—and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat—that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.

And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will—yes, we will—fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.

In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign—and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.

So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend- and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.

At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.

And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.

With deep respect and abiding affection,

[Ted]

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Photo credits: AP via C-SPAN; White House

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