Sunday, March 21, 2010
A Healthier America
...the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.
Yesterday, in a 219-212 House vote that every media outlet in the world is calling "historic," the United States took one giant leap toward universal health coverage. The more than 2,000-page bill is, by no means, perfect, but we think there are at least 6 reasons why this will make our country healthier and safer, and, ultimately, that it is the kind of event that reflects the “whole new world” that Jesus came to inspire.
1. Fear Didn’t Win
The Tea Party protestors who confronted John Lewis outside the Capitol Building on Saturday chanted "Kill the bill, N--ger!" and the conservative protestors on the lawn of the Capitol shouted "Nancy, you will burn in hell for this!" as congressional leaders debated the passage of the Senate bill yesterday. There were cries of "Baby Killer" from the Republican House members when Bart Stupak (of all people) gave a speech on the House floor after switching his vote to "yes." And, of course, the comeback kid, Newt Gingrich is working to inspire millions of his fellow conservatives "to save America from a leftwing machine of unparalleled corruption arrogance and cynicism."
2. The Poor and Disadvantaged Will Win
An estimated 16 million people will be added to Medicaid (those earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level) and federal tax credits will be available to working families earning as much as 400% of the federal poverty level, but are not covered by their employers.
3. It Will Be Paid For
According to the nonpartisan CBO, the bill will cut deficitis by $138 billion over the next decade and by around $1.2 trillion in the decade thereafter. It does this by cutting $500 billion from Medicare over the next decade and imposing a 40% excise tax on the most generous employer-provided policies (probably not starting until 2018), adding a new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income for families with more than $250,000 and a variety of excise taxes on medical device makers, as well as pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
4. It Supports Life
6 Democratic "pro-life" House members who had been consulting with the Catholic Bishops over the past year agreed to support the bill when Obama agreed to an executive order absolutely restricting the public funding of abortions. It is against the law to fund abortions with tax-payers money (it's called the Hyde Amendment). Of course, to be "pro-life" extends far beyond the fetus. Millions of poor women will now have the opportunity for care during their pregnancies (an obvious incentive to have the baby) and millions of young men and women graduating from high school will now have access to health care outside of military service.
5. It Mandates a Different Bottom Line
Americans will be now mandated to buy health care coverage, but insurance companies will not be able to kick off costly patients or deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. My friend, Justin, who has had a history of seizures and is pursuing his PHd in political theology, will not have to fear being sidelined by insurance company "death panels." My friend Charles, who has a Berkeley education and is looking for work, will have access to coverage.
6. It is a Form of Brotherly Love
We participate in an American story that, from day one, has played out in the tension between individual rights and the community good. Over the past 30 years, the pendulum has swung towards the narrative of personal responsiblity. This piece of legislation is partially correcting that course. To be American is to care for the downtrodden and marginalized and broken-hearted. We are a people of brotherly love, but too often, that love is stymied by dualistic and simplistic accounts of our poor brothers and sisters: "too lazy" and "not responsible" and "living off the government." At the core, we cannot afford to be a people dominated by a competitive, scarcity mentality. We are wealthy. We have enough for everyone. We are people that proclaim good news to the poor.