By Vivek Gopalan, NMPolitics.net
Sitting in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives the night of March 25, 2010, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and excitement as Speaker Pelosi gaveled down the final vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the law known to most Americans as ObamaCare). Finally, after over a century of talking without action, government had tackled a problem that has destroyed millions of American lives and functioned as a drain on our economy.
More importantly, my generation would be the last to know what it was like to go without health insurance.
I knew the bill was unpopular back home in Southern New Mexico. As Congressman Harry Teague’s assistant in charge of health care, I spent almost every day for half a year listening to the various ways in which the bill fell short. However, I was undeterred in my support for the bill – even though Congressman Teague ultimately voted against it – and I was proud of the bill Congress passed. I thought it was a bold and necessary step toward a more sustainable and equitable health-care system.
With a problem as big as health care, Congress had to start somewhere. They needed to build the infrastructure whereby all future reform can happen, and make immediate changes to address the failings of our current system. And, with ObamaCare, they did just that.
Finally, Americans who don’t get insurance from their workplace will be able to pool their purchasing power and buy affordable health insurance. Finally, Americans who make too much to be on Medicaid but too little to afford private health insurance will have a way to get their families insured. Finally, Americans who have already suffered from a debilitating disease will not need to suffer the further indignity of declaring bankruptcy.
This Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a first step. Like every major piece of social legislation in this country’s history – Social Security, the Civil Rights Act and Medicare – the law will need to be revisited. What is important is that we have a base from which to build.
No law could have been perfect out of the gate
No law aimed at fixing our health-care system could have been perfect out of the gate. The problems were monumental. There were many moving pieces and many diverse stakeholders. Plus, the law had to work within the system we had in place and not disrupt the health care people already received.
Despite its clear and substantial benefits, Republicans are now attempting to overturn ObamaCare. Instead of working to improve the law, they are playing the same old political games. Since they can’t repeal the law legislatively, Republicans have gone to the courts. The Supreme Court will likely decide the fate of the law before the November election, and their decision could become a key issue in the presidential campaign. For all of our sakes, we must hope this law withstands these challenges and succeeds.
Proponents and opponents of ObamaCare agree that, substantively speaking, the current U.S. health-care system is broken. Americans already spend almost 20 cents on health care out of every dollar they earn. A jobless American typically means an uninsured American. The cost of employer-sponsored health insurance has doubled in the last 10 years, and the costs of Medicare and Medicaid are crippling our state and federal governments. Increases in health-care costs have virtually wiped away any income gains Americans have received over the past few decades.
There are, of course, no easy answers to escalating health-care costs. Health-care issues touch every American and will soon grow to consume almost a quarter of our economy. We shouldn’t expect a one-page bill to solve the cost problem, as some Republicans seem to believe.
Rather, I think the approach the law Congress passed last year takes is the right one. It implements dozens of cost-cutting measures, including investments in efficiency, preventative care, and programs that will pay for the value of health care received by the patient rather than the quantity of the health care given by the providers.
Crucial implications for New Mexico
Politically, we have equal reason to cheer the success of the ObamaCare. The last time Congress addressed health-care reform was in the early 90s. After President Clinton’s failure, our politicians didn’t touch the subject for almost two decades.
If health-care reform is overturned, you must ask yourself, do you think politicians will be able to put something better in place? The answer almost certainly seems to be “no;” almost every president since Teddy Roosevelt has tried, and only one has ever succeeded.
And health-care reform has crucial implications for New Mexico. If the law were repealed, half a million New Mexicans would remain uninsured. Many more would continue to live in fear of losing the insurance they have, would remain one illness away from financial disaster, and would continue to pay way too much of their hard-earned salary on health care.
Once implemented, this bill will go a long way toward helping these New Mexicans. All New Mexicans, as well as all Americans, should take pride in the passage of this law, because all of us have a stake in its eventual success.