In November, former President Bill Clinton gave Senate Democrats some no-nonsense political advice in regards to health care reform: just pass something. This morning the United States Senate approved a bill that will overhaul health care with a 60-39 vote.
Is this a Merry Christmas from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to the citizens of the United States and to President Barack Obama? One thing is for sure, the public option, which would have created competition in the marketplace and controlled the skyrocketing cost of health insurance premiums has been put to rest. The Medicare buy-in, which two weeks ago seemed to be a very viable option, has also been held up. It is also evident that big money interest has a significant influence over the United States Congress.
According to the Center of Responsive Politics, close to $400 million has been spent by special interest groups for lobbyist, television ads, and political donations to manipulate health care reform. As a result of these influences, the bill has been significantly watered down and both the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies will be laughing all the way to the bank. But the Senate did “just pass something” and Senators are all now on their way to airport and train terminals heading home just in time for Christmas.
As remarkable and historic as the passing of this bill is, it is far from perfect; but so is our shattered “sick care” system as it currently exists. The bill, in light of its imperfections does promise several things: it will expand health care insurance for thirty one million Americans; it will end the discriminatory practice of denying health care to individuals with pre-existing conditions and it will get rid of life time limits on health care coverage. The bill will also provide better coverage for preventive and wellness care; it will increase payments to primary care physicians and general surgeons in underserved areas and it will control the previously inflated cost of premiums based on gender or pre-existing conditions.
One key feature is that the Senate bill includes $10 billion to expand health centers which will provide primary health care to 25 million more Americans in 10,000 more communities. Federally Qualified Health Centers currently provide physicians, dental services, mental health counseling, and low-cost prescription drug benefits on a sliding scale basis to 20 million uninsured and under-insured patients. 45 million are now eligible for these services.
“It’s not important to be perfect. It’s important to move,” Clinton said he told the senators in November. “The worst thing we can do is nothing.”
The numbers we are all too familiar with have not changed and if something was not done 45,000 more Americans would have lost their lives because they didn’t have access to health care in the year 2010. The ultimate goal for the Senate, House, and those who care for patients is to provide all Americans with affordable, high-quality, accessible, and portable health care coverage. The best alternative for the future of health insurance in America, in my opinion, would be a Medicare buy-in, but this seems unlikely.
Despite its imperfections and lack of a public option or Medicare buy-in, the bill is a step in the right direction. More work needs to be done and once the House-Senate Conference meets, further amendments and changes will obviously need to take place and hopefully the discussion of a public option will come back to the table.
So thanks to Senators for “just pass[ing] something.” Merry Christmas.