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Victory for health-care reform

BY SIMEON TALLEY | MARCH 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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After a long fight filled with tremendous uncertainty, health-care-reform efforts are drawing to a close.

The debate in our nation’s capital and all across the country has been rancorous. Cannonades of attacks have been launched from both sides. The process has been confusing and drawn out. Tea Party protests decry an obtrusive government takeover and a loss of liberty. There are those further — way further — on the left who feel betrayed that the private-insurance model remains firmly intact.

Most are situated at various places between those two extremes. I imagine, however, that the debate we’ve been having for the past year or so has left many even more cynical. And the sensible-minded have found it difficult to cut through the constant spin or all the talk about parliamentary procedure and legislative tactics.

But passage of health-care reform, the most important piece of social legislation since Medicare in 1965, represents substantial progress. As dispassionate as they may be about this particular issue, it will mean material progress for youth as well.

The president will sign a bill that, at its core, will provide a way for most people to obtain affordable coverage, strengthen the coverage of those who are already insured, and make medical care more efficient and less expensive. The bill will ban insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, health status, and sex. It will provide coverage for 32 million people currently uninsured, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It will also reduce the deficit.

As a demographic cohort, young people are more likely to be uninsured than any other group. Many youth forgo purchasing health insurance not because they think they’re “invincible,” but rather because they simply can’t afford it. Transitioning from college to the workforce has become increasingly challenging. Affording rent, student-loan payments, and possibly health insurance — it’s nearly impossible.

Under the bill, young people will be able to stay insured on their parents’ coverage until the age of 26. For those who can’t afford insurance still — because everyone will be required to purchase it — they’ll be provided a subsidy.

There are some critics who have characterized this as radical socialist engineering. For political and ideological reasons, they are completely affronted by these efforts. Yet these reforms are fair, decent, and in fact long overdue.

From the outset, President Obama made the argument that reform was necessary because the status quo is unsustainable. But there’s a more overarching argument to be made for reform.

As the only industrialized economy without a universal system, we leave so much physical and financial suffering to chance. Even if you eat right, exercise, or avoid risks, without (and sometimes with) insurance, you may be one chance medical accident from ruin. It’s a vulnerability and a frailty in life that we all share.

Thousands die each year simply because they lack insurance. Millions are only one medical bill away from bankruptcy or other economic hardships.

Every day, quiet but profound tragedies take place because of our broken health-care system.
Those who have opposed reform have overlooked the moral imperative, the ethical need for reform. Because we all share some vulnerability to chance — often at no fault of our own — government, as an extension of our collective interests, must step in.

Obama and every single member of Congress who votes for reform will make history. Passage of health-care reform will make America more just and equitable. Yet it represents only a step, and there will be many more steps to take.

The legislation is not perfect; few pieces of legislation are. It’ll be the task of this generation to pick up where current efforts are leaving off.


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