How has the debate over healthcare devolved so much? I’ll be honest. Sometimes, in a reflective moment sitting in the church pew, when I’m not trying mightily to enlist my 6-year-old daughter to keep my 3-year-old son quiet, I think about whether, despite all the good it has done and will do, voting for Obamacare was worth it.
I was one of the 63 House Democrats who lost their seat in the epic 2010 election that was fueled by the Tea Party and their angst against Obamacare. I was one of those members yelled at in town halls and who received death threats and watched on TV when my colleague was shot in the head in January 2011, only months after she voted for the health care law.
But then I think about why I cast the vote in the first place. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I came back home from war in one piece. I had the opportunity to serve in Congress. And personally, I had employer-paid Blue Cross Blue Shield before Congress, kept it during Congress, and have that same plan today.
But hearing the heartbreaking stories of so many families who were denied coverage–who went bankrupt because of medical bills–that was too much for me. In 2010 alone, 26,100 people prematurely died due to lack of health coverage. That is immoral. How can anyone rationalize that the greatest country on Earth, with the best doctors, stood by decade after decade as fellow Americans died prematurely because they didn’t have access to health insurance? Whether it was a pre-existing condition or affordability, something had to be done. Every major stakeholder–doctors, seniors, hospitals, PhRMA–all came together and endorsed Obamacare. But that is policy, not politics.
As we all know, elections have consequences, and this shutdown is led by the House Republicans–47% of whom were elected since 2010. The House Republicans and Senator Ted Cruz are so against a health care law that they’ll have a fake filibuster, misinform on national TV by giving statements they know have been debunked, and do everything in their power to stop it from being implemented.
Of course, they are ignoring the law and the American people who spoke definitively in 2012 by reelecting President Obama, keeping the Democratic Senate majority, and electing eight more Democrats in the House. (Redistricting protected many House Republicans, since Democrats won one million more votes than Republicans.)
Unfortunately, the same desperate lies and scare tactics will continue, but the facts surrounding Obamacare are finally coming into focus. While Republicans argued this bill would fund abortion (even though federal funding for abortion has been banned since the Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1976), this has been one of the most pro-life laws in our country’s history. Access to contraception coverage has already shown results. The CDC recently reported that the teen birth rate has reached a historic low (since the data started being collected in 1940). Because of free contraceptives, abortions have been cut by almost 80% in places like St. Louis. By expanding health care coverage and requiring insurance plans to include prenatal and maternity coverage, mothers and their babies will receive the care they need. Today one in five American women of childbearing age are uninsured and the U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates among all industrialized countries.
Additionally, health spending has slowed. Premiums for employer-sponsored insurance increased only 3% in 2012, significantly less than the 10% average increase of years past. The Obamacare bill that passed had 44 Republican-sponsored amendments, including the Rooney-Murphy bill, which became law and targeted fraud, waste and abuse.
This is a big week for Obamacare. Starting Tuesday, those who were priced out of the insurance market will get a chance to shop on the new marketplaces and find a plan that fits their needs and budget. The plans must cover doctor visits, hospitalizations, maternity care and other services. Premiums are affordable. The majority of uninsured people will be able to find insurance for $100 or less.
Historically speaking, the passage of Obamacare is similar to Medicare. Then, there were critics like Ronald Reagan who rallied against Medicare, and most of the Senate Republicans voted against its passage. But history proved them wrong and now even Republicans sing the program’s praises. And when Ronald Reagan became president, he expanded Medicaid several times. Medicaid spending more than doubled during his presidency. I’m confident Obamacare will play out the same way if given the chance.
Let me be clear, like any bill, there needs to be changes made. But my father taught me, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I’m damn proud I stood up and voted for Obamacare. It was the right thing to do, even if it did cost my reelection. Now let’s hope Republicans and Democrats can remember the noble calling of public service–and the selfless sacrifice of our military–and start making the implementation better, instead of playing these silly games that hurt so many, including our troops.