2010-04-02 / Columnists

Congressman Meeks Speaks

Health Care Reform: Help Is On The Way
Comment By Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MEEKS GREGORY MEEKS It was a spectacular moment last Tuesday in the East Room of the White House. The occasion was the signing ceremony for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. I was honored to have been seated in the front row to watch history being made.

And, as President Obama affixed his signature to the first of two pieces of legislation that together constitute the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system since Medicare and Medicaid were enacted in 1965, I thought back on what had just been accomplished in such a short period of time. The president laid out his principles for health care reform just about this time 12 months ago. Although at times it did not seem like we would ever get to the goal, here we were after more than a year of intense and often vitriolic debate, a year of legislative maneuvering, a year of overcoming outright falsehoods, vilification and nitpicking, and after several unbelievably intense days leading up to the vote in the House of Representatives on the version of health care reform the Senate had passed on Christmas Eve.

The House not only passed that bill by a 219 to 212 margin but also approved a package of improvements to it, 220 to 211. The Senate would use a budget reconciliation procedure to adopt the second measure a couple of days later.

After all those months, weeks, days, and hours of intense negotiations, of coping with unexpected twists and turns, and of anxious vote counting, Democrats led by President Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, had brought century-long struggle to provide health care coverage for most Americans to a successful conclusion. It is hard to verbalize how proud I am that history will forever record that I was among those Democrats who voted to change the course of history.

I voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because it is good for America and great for the Sixth Congressional District. It will expand coverage to 95 percent of Americans while bending the health care cost curve downwards.

It will improve health care coverage for 377,000 Sixth Congressional District constituents while providing coverage for 54,000 constituents who are presently uninsured. It will enable well over 12,000 constituents with preexisting medical conditions obtain coverage. And it will help about 600 families a year in Southeast Queens avoid bankruptcy due to unaffordable health care costs.

Up to 132,000 families and 12,000 small businesses in the district will receive tax credits and other assistance to help them afford coverage. The bill’s improvements in Medicare, including closing the donut hole in the drug prescription benefit, will help an estimated 76,000 Medicare beneficiaries who live in the district get the medicines they need.

About 53,000 young adults in the Sixth CD will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26. Seventeen community health centers can expect millions of dollars in new funding. The cost of uncompensated care hospitals and other health care providers here in Southeast Queens will drop by $54 million annually. Meanwhile the roughly 56 percent district residents who are on employer-provided health care plan or policies purchased on the individual market will be able to keep the coverage they have now.

Not a single Republican in the House or the Senate voted for the main legislation or the budget reconciliation bill. As the reform legislation worked its way through the House and Senate, only one Republican representative and one Republican senator voted yes either in committee or on the floor in each respective body. Minutes after the signing ceremony, Republican leaders gathered at another venue and promised that Republicans — if they regain control of Congress in the midterm election this November — will repeal health care reform. They repeated the claim that the bill the president had just signed into law is a budget buster, ignoring the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finding that the measure will reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion over its first 10 years and by $1.2 trillion over its second 10 years.

The Republicans’ slogan is “repeal and replace.” They actually want to repeal legislation that prohibits insurance companies from dropping or denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, allows parents to keep their children on their policy until age 26, prevents health care providers from placing annual or lifetime caps on coverage, closes the “donut hole” in the Medicare Part D prescription benefit program (beneficiaries will get a $250 rebate this year), and covers 32 million more Americans with their own proposal that does none of the above while only covering three million more Americans.

With eight months in which the public will be better able to separate fact from fiction, this contrast between the approaches of each party should make for an interesting campaign. A confident and victorious President Obama has urged Republicans to “go for it.”

Meanwhile, it will be interesting as well to see whether the party of no will come up with an occasional yes as the Administration and Congress tackle jobs creation, financial regulatory reform, education, energy policy, the environment, and other vital concerns on the way to the November election.

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