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A triumphant President Barack Obama
President Obama signing the Healthcare Reform Act bill Â - Photo by Roy Lewis
After 100 years Obama Delivers Healthcare for the people
It was President Barack Obama's finest hour since his historic election: passage of the massive Healthcare Reform Bill--a defining moment of his presidency. On Tuesday, he signed into law a sweeping health care reform bill, the nation's most substantial social legislation in four decades, achieving a top priority of his administration. Greeted by applause from enthusiastic supporters, President Obama said, "Today after almost a century of trying; today, after over a year of debate; today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America." Health reform had eluded every administration since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the sixties.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
President Obama signed a landmark health care bill today, saying the law "will set into motion what a generation of Americans have fought for." The passage of the historic healthcare reform bill is just the beginning and according to President Obama, "I don't know how passing healthcare will play politically, but I do know that it's the right thing to do. It's right for our families. It's right for our businesses. It's right for the United States of America. At a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics."
But even though it was a triumph for the President, implementation will be equally as challenging. The president used all the tools in his campaign arsenal to fight for this bill and there are still many bumps in the road ahead. The bill passed without a single Republican vote and despite a few "crossover" Democrats, the tone of the opposition at times, became personal and angry. Now what does healthcare reform mean and what will it change for the masses?
Commenting on television after the vote, President Obama said, "This is what change looks like," reminiscing about his days on the campaign trail. Some suggested that in the final thrust toward the healthcare showdown, the President went into campaign mode stirring memories of his days as candidate Obama. "We proved that this government--a government of the people and by the people--still works for the people," he concluded.
Throughout the process, the President remained true to his principles and never got sidetracked or indulged in personal attacks or recriminations like some of conservative opposition. In the end, he was a gracious winner saying, "I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn't an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve."
The monumental battle to reform the healthcare system was near and dear to President Obama. First and foremost, it was one of his campaign promises, and despite the reality he faced as president which was different from that of a candidate, he stayed focused, on track, and kept his promise. Secondly, it must be remembered that the President's mother suffered and eventually died because she was not treated fairly by her insurance company because of a pre-existing condition. He obviously wanted to protect the American people from suffering that same fate.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) fully supported the President and there were emotional moments when some of its senior members stood up in support of the president remembering why the CBC is called "the conscience of the Congress" including the distaff members from California: Representatives Barbara Lee (CA-9); Maxine Waters (CA-35); Diane Watson (CA-33); and Laura Richardson (CA-37), and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.
As chairwoman of the CBC, Representative Lee issued the following statement on the passage of health care reform legislation:
"Tonight, my colleagues and I cast an historic vote to improve the health and wellness of millions of Americans who suffer because they are uninsured and under-insured and because of massive gaps in our nation's health care system.
"We cast our votes for all those people who deserve health care but simply can't afford it. We cast our votes for our senior citizens who will see their prescription drug costs go down. We cast our votes for our children and grandchildren, so that they can live longer, fuller and healthier lives. We cast our votes in the memory of those people who didn't have preventive care and died prematurely.
"The Congressional Black Caucus worked tirelessly to make sure that this bill holds insurance companies accountable and included a number of cost-saving provisions. We were vocal advocates for provisions in the bill to combat health disparities, illnesses and diseases that disproportionately affect our community.
"To those who suffer from those health disparities, our vote tonight carries significance similar to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in that it fulfills a dream that has been elusive for far too long and for far too many Americans.
"This bill is a major first step in establishing the foundation for a universally accessible and affordable health care system for all. But it is a victory not only for our constituents, but for all Americans because it will make us a stronger and healthier nation."
Representative Waters' statement: "Our health care system is broken; no one can deny it. Every day, millions of Americans go without needed health care because they have no insurance. Some of these people work for small businesses and other employers that do not provide insurance. Some of them lost their insurance when they lost their jobs. Some of them were denied coverage by insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition. And some of them simply could not afford the escalating premiums. Even for people with health insurance, a devastating accident or illness can be very expensive. The cost of health care is the number one reason for bankruptcies in America."
Representative Watson's statement: "This historic legislation will put you and your doctor back in charge of your health care choices by holding insurance companies accountable and stopping their worst practices--like denying you coverage because of a pre-existing condition, dropping your coverage when you get sick, or arbitrarily hiking up your premiums. Over the course of a hundred years, both Republican and Democratic presidents and Congressional leaders have tried to enact meaningful health reform in this country. Tonight, we have passed a bill that is on par with Medicare and Social Security in securing the future economic prosperity of our country and the American middle class."
Representative Richardson's statement: "While this legislation does not include an comprehensive full public option as the House of Representatives preferred, it is a giant step forward in beginning the reform of our nation's current neglectful healthcare system. Right here in the 37th District, more than 90,000 people who are currently uninsured will now be able to have affordable access to coverage. Our 17,500 neighbors who have pre-existing conditions that have prevented them from getting decent coverage will finally be able to find insurance plans that they qualify for and more than 60,000 of our seniors will see their Medicare benefits improve."
Mayor Villaraigosa's statement: "History was made last night when Democrats in Congress achieved what their predecessors have been trying to do for decades--they passed health care reform. It was a long and hard partisan fight, but in the end, the American people came out victorious. With this legislation, all Americans will have options when it comes to their health insurance. They will no longer be beholden to insurance companies who charge high premiums, but do not provide high quality care.
"With this legislation, the millions of Americans currently living without health insurance, now have the opportunity to purchase, high quality, affordable health care. And with this legislation, we as a country are one step closer to addressing the skyrocketing health care costs that have burdened and even bankrupted American families for decades. This isn't the end of this struggle, nor is this the legislation passed last night the final solution, but it is big step in the right direction.
"On behalf of the 2.7 million people in Los Angeles city and Los Angeles County currently without health insurance, I'd like to thank and congratulate President Obama and his administration for their resolve to get this legislation passed; Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer for their tireless efforts to ensure the passage of this important legislation; and all Members of the House of Representatives who voted for this historic reform."
In addition to the elective officials, the Sentinel reached out to other members of the community for their comments. Mervyn Dymally, former lieutenant governor and a retired representative, senator and assemblyman who is presently a director at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science said, "It's historic and a complement to the leadership of President Obama and Speaker Pelosi.... They were able to deliver on promises for a much needed social need."
Dr. Camille Nelson who is a cardiologist in private practice and some of whose patients will be directly affected by this bill said, "I haven't been able to follow all the details but it's better than nothing. I think they still have a ways to go; but they just couldn't not do anything; they had to do something. And though not everybody's covered ... there's still a problem with the abortion issue."
Nathaniel "Nat" Trives, former Mayor of Santa Monica, Professor of Criminal Justice and federal consent decree monitor, who is presently on the board of the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopedic Hospital said, "I'm absolutely delighted that we are taking this first step and I think it's been too long coming. Also, I believe that once the American people understand the nuances in the bill that this whole negativism that surrounds certain parties will evaporate to a certain extent. I realize, having spent six decades watching public policy, this isn't going to do anything for certain people because of their attitude ... but I really believe that once it's explained to the people, the polls will turn around and the American people will be happy with this."
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), and President Obama's point person in the area of implementing his domestic health policies said, " Her at HHS, we'll be doing much of the implementation and that's why we'll be moving quickly and carefully, now that the President has signed the bill to start delivering the benefits to the American people. Our guiding principle will be the same principle that is at the heart of this reform legislation: how we can give Americans control over their own healthcare choices."
About 32 million Americans who don't have health insurance will get access to coverage when the $940 billion health care plan takes effect. What does that mean for Americans who don't have insurance, or who are in danger of losing it? A few shared their thoughts about health care reform and how it affects them. The impact of the entire package would extend insurance coverage to 32 million additional Americans by 2019 and also have an effect on almost every citizen.
Here are some of the questions that implementation will answer:
Q: I don't have health insurance. Would I have to get it, and what happens if I don't?
Q: I want health insurance, but I can't afford it. What do I do?
Q: I just lost my job, would I still be covered while job hunting?
Q: I'm recently divorced and is no longer on my husband's policy, will I get coverage?
Q: How long will it take before the American people begin to get the benefits of the bill?
The negativism referred to above is also evident by several attorney generals, who are getting ready to challenge the bill, in efforts to thwart immediate implementation under the guise of the federal government's "unconstitutional overreach of its authority" now that it has been signed. Other in Congress are talking about repealing the bill. However, it should be remembered that President Obama was a constitutional law professor and knows a thing or two about Constitutional Law.