Opinion

Health care bill succeeds while Republicans fail | Andrew Villeneuve

After a year of fierce debate and wrangling, Congress has finally done something that many of the people who cover politics for a living in New York and Washington, D.C., have been telling the country had little chance of happening: It sent the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.

The legislation, which ultimately passed without a single Republican vote, is designed to gradually provide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and better protection for those who already have insurance.

The right wing has attacked the bill as a “government takeover of health care,” but that’s laughable. A real “government takeover” would be the creation of a single payer health care system that doesn’t leave any American out in the cold. Other wealthy nations have managed to provide universal coverage to their citizens — and their standard of living is higher than that of the United States as a result.

We’re still playing catch-up.

What the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does do — at long last — is put insurance companies on a tighter leash. Republicans were in power for the better part of the decade, and they could have beaten Democrats to the punch, but instead they chose to waste time talking about prohibiting marriage equality and banning the desecration of flags.

“It is worth noting that for the six years in which the Republican Party held the presidency and majorities in the House and Senate, no legislation was passed to protect people from discrimination against pre-existing conditions,” State Rep. Brian Baird said on the day of the final vote on HR 3590. (Baird joined Washington’s other five Democrats to vote “aye” on the bill).

The closure of the “pre-existing conditions” loophole is one of the best-known parts of the bill, but there are many other important provisions.

For example, beginning in 2014, HR 3590 gives states like Washington the ability to use their purchasing power to negotiate directly with insurers. Until then, the Evergreen State can apply for federal funding to cover two-thirds of the cost of the Basic Health Plan, which currently has a long waiting list and was put on the chopping block in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s original “balanced” budget (but will be spared from elimination in the final state budget, which will cancel out devastating cuts to public services by closing outdated tax loopholes).

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare by extricating needless overpayments to insurance companies and extending the life of Medicare’s trust fund, which was in danger of going bankrupt before the bill passed. Seniors will be relieved to know that the infamous “donut hole” — the gap in coverage for prescription drugs — will be significantly reduced by the bill.

Native American tribes, meanwhile, are getting a bigger toolbox from the federal government that will allow them to improve mental health treatment, youth suicide prevention and long-term care.

HR 3590 also provides for the creation of a marketplace, or exchange, where families and small businesses that don’t have insurance can shop for a plan that suits their needs.

“Tea party” protestors have tried to convince America that HR 3590 is evil and terrible, without ever really talking about its substance. Protestors were urging their representatives to “read the bill” (then kill it), but it’s evident they have not been following their own advice, since most of them cannot authoritatively discuss what’s in the legislation.

A handful of Republican attorneys general have contended the law violates the United States Constitution, and filed suit within minutes of its signing to block its implementation. Among those attorneys general is our very own Rob McKenna, whose decision to commit state resources to fight a law that will insure hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians is drawing the ire of many voters. Gov. Gregoire, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and legislative leaders have all asked McKenna to withdraw his participation, but he has refused.

If McKenna believes that fighting health care reform in the courts is going to win him the sympathy of his constituents, he is mistaken. The debate has gone on long enough; it’s time for the fight over this legislation to end.

Opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act made their case loudly and effectively; they lost. Now it’s time for us to move forward and begin confronting the many other challenges that threaten our nation’s future and prosperity.

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