Monday, March 22, 2010

219 Democrats

With gangs of protesters roaming Washington, D.C. this weekend, and Republican congressmen egging them on by holding up "Kill the Bill" signs from the Senate balcony (see slideshow), with spitting and name-calling, with emotions and political influence tangled up together on both sides of the abortion debate, the Senate's health-care bill narrowly passed in the House of Representatives on Sunday with 219 votes (all Democrats).

On Tuesday, President Obama is expected to sign the bill, as the men and women of Congress continue to hash out the details of reconciling the Senate and House versions. It seems that health care reform is all over but the shouting, and there's been plenty of that already.

I've been in favor of health care reform for a long time, primarily because I believe that it would keep Americans healthier and protect them financial ruin if they do become seriously ill. Thirty-two million uninsured Americans will be covered by this new bill, easing the considerable logistical and financial strain that the uninsured place on our emergency rooms and hospitals when they don't have access to regular medical care that can keep them out of the ER and hospital in the first place.

The bill will also make health insurers take more responsibility for the people who pay their premiums. Health care insurers will now be required to invest in preventing disease (and ultimately saving money on health care costs) by covering annual check-ups and and childhood immunizations. Reform will create larger pools of payees, including healthy young adults, to offset the costs of treating the patients who have expensive (often chronic) illnesses, and eliminate the lifetime cap on how much health care an insurer will provide to a patient. (Note to uninsured twenty-somethings who will now need to purchase health insurance: some day you, too, will have an expensive and/or chronic medical problem, for which you deserve - and no doubt will demand - quality care.)

Recent headlines such as "Eight healthcare lobbyists for every member of Congress" (Fierce Healthcare) and "Big Jump in Blue Cross Premiums Sparks Outrage" (San Francisco Chronicle) have made it clear that health care consumers have had little influence, and their needs have not been met, under the current insurance system. It was time for some legislation.

The Washington Post has an interesting chart showing how the House members voted, how much funding they get from the health care industry, and the percentage of uninsured people in their districts. Wondering how reform will affect you? The Post's interactive graph explains the costs and benefits of the bill, based on your income, marital status, and the size of your family.