The country turned an important corner last night when Congress affirmed the moral imperative of providing quality health care to more Americans and passed the President’s sweeping health insurance reform bill. It is to President Obama’s credit that he was willing to commit his office to such a challenge when others before him had failed.
But this is not health care reform, and the task of providing health care that Americans can afford is still before us. Too much was sacrificed to corporate interests in the sausage-making process. Rather than address the fundamental flaws in our health care system, we applied a giant band-aid. This health care bill does not come close to doing all that needs to be done to meet the needs of our citizens and our businesses as we retool our economy for the 21st century.
There are many good and praise-worthy things in this health care bill: help for those with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed coverage for children, money for community health centers, and expansion of Medicaid and SCHIP. But there is also cause for serious concern. Never before has the government mandated that its citizens pay directly to private corporations almost as much as they do in federal taxes, especially when those corporations have been granted unregulated monopolies.
This bill fundamentally shifts the relationships of governance in order to achieve its objectives. It was hard to reconcile the President’s campaign against the evils of the insurance industry with a solution of “corporate tithing” that drives millions of people onto their rolls. We have empowered another quasi-governmental, “too big to fail” industry with alarming nonchalance.
Over the course of the past year, it was exciting to take part in covering the health care debate as online journalists, watching “new media” mature as we all explored new ways to deliver information beat-by-beat to our audiences. At the same time, we witnessed a political process that could not keep pace with the depth and intensity of this coverage. Myths were exploded almost as quickly as they were generated. In the end, it was not a lack of 60 votes or 50 votes that caused the President to break faith with his supporters and sacrifice the public option, it was a lack of political will.
We saw in the last days what President Obama was capable of when he truly put the force of his political skill behind an effort. But as time wore on, the mountain of data unearthed could lead to only one conclusion: this bill, with its eerie similarities to a plan written by insurance industry lobbyists in 2008, was what the president wanted.
Rather than use his talents to rein in corporate interests, as he promised on the campaign trail, the President used his office to shield them from accountability. This was our chance to weaken them, and the Americans that Obama inspired with his message of change would have fought like hell by his side to do just that. Sadly, that opportunity was squandered. President Obama made himself the defender of the corporate interest problem that we still need to overcome. Perhaps that is the best that can be achieved within our current system. If so, that is a sobering reality.
This bill is a first step, not the last. The Democrats must fix this bill while they still have the chance. Before they leave Americans at the mercy of the system they have created, it is imperative that they address the issues of cost control, the dangerously weak enforcement mechanisms, and the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies.
Even a single, solitary Senator can begin that process immediately by introducing a public option amendment when the Senate takes up the reconciliation bill later this week. Now that the health care bill has passed, there is no need to worry that this move could endanger the overall package. The Senate should also consider the bill ending the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies already passed by the House. And when Congress takes up immigration reform, we hope that they provide for the health care needs of immigrants, a need too quickly cast aside in the face of right wing demagoguery.
We also hope that the Democratic party recalls that preserving abortion rights is a plank in the party platform. Unfortunately, with this legislation, women’s reproductive rights were sacrificed for corporate profits. There’s no other way to say it. And the party alone is not to blame. It could not have happened without the cooperation of pro-choice groups, who failed to mobilize and did little but issue press releases and fundraise in the wake of the biggest assault on women’s reproductive rights in 35 years. Their complete capitulation is symptomatic of the crisis that the passage of this bill has triggered on the left. Liberal interest groups across the board sacrificed the interests of their members, and, in the end, acted as little more than enforcers for PhRMA and the insurance companies, or sat mute in exchange for personal sinecures and carve-outs.
But it is a national shame that a Democratic President who pledged the repeal of the Hyde Amendment would proudly issue an executive order affirming it. How far we’ve come since 2007, when Barack Obama swore that his first act in office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.
And finally, most of all, we hope that members of both parties find the courage to stand up to the corporate lobbyists who dominated this process–because if left unchecked, their pernicious influence will continue to infect every aspect of our government to the detriment of its citizens. We who are voters must clearly communicate in November that we will accept nothing less because the fight cannot end until we as a nation decide to take on the corporate interests that are corrupting our political institutions and strangling their ability to provide affordable healthcare to everyone.