Answering the Call to History

Jesse Jackson | 3/25/2010, 6:45 p.m.
After 14 brutal months, House Democrats, led by their redoubtable Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stepped up Sunday night to pass comprehensive ...

The debate was fierce, with a hostile crowd insulting legislators outside Congress. "Totalitarianism." "Socialism." "The path of government tyranny." A fiscal Frankenstein." Anti abortion Democrat Bart Stupak, D-Mich., was called a "baby killer." And all that was from Republicans on the floor of the House; the invectives from the demonstrators, egged on by conservative legislators, were even more extreme, featuring racial and homophobic slurs.

Now the bill goes to the president's desk for signature and the "reconciliation" measure that fixes parts of the bill goes back to the Senate for final passage. It is worth dipping beneath the over-the-top rhetoric of the opposition to remember what is in the bill.

Within 90 days, people denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions will have access to high risk pools that will give them the chance to buy health insurance.

Within six months, insurance companies will be barred from revoking people's coverage once they get sick. Insurance companies will be barred from denying coverage to children who have pre-existing conditions. They will be barred from imposing any lifetime cap on coverage. Millions of Americans frozen into their current jobs because they can't afford to lose their health insurance can now move without fear.

Starting this year, young people can stay on their parents' policies until age 26. This is particularly important for a young generation headed into a wretched job market.

Over the next years, insurance companies will be required to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on medical services -- an effort to limit the amount they spend trying only to insure those who won't get sick.

Then subsidies will kick in for families making less than about $80,000 a year to help them purchase health insurance. Employers will be required to provide coverage or pay a penalty. In 2014, most people will be required to obtain coverage also. By 2019, 32 million more Americans will have health insurance. And according to the independent Congressional Budget Office, the bill will save more than $100 billion dollars over the next 10 years, and more than $1 trillion over the next 20, as it meets the president's requirement that it "bend the curve" on health care spending.

It isn't a single payer plan like Medicare, much less "socialism." It isn't a "government takeover" of health care. It does only what every other industrial country and most poorer nations in the world already do: guarantee insurance for all citizens.

Americans have been terrorized with absurd claims about "death panels," granny killing, images of concentration camps. They've seen a Republican legislator shout "You lie!" to the president during a State of the Union address, watched tea parties and fierce lobbying and deal making.

But Sunday night, due significantly to the stalwart leadership of Speaker Pelosi, who has been demonized across the country, and the commitment of President Obama, who has been criticized for staying the course, the Congress -- despite the efforts of entrenched lobbies and an obstructionist opposition -- passed a landmark reform that will go a long way toward making affordable health care a right, not a privilege.