On Tuesday, President Obama signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. The bill has been proclaimed historic, and the media, following administration’s lead, called the House vote a victory. But supporters of the health reform are divided on the merits of the legislation.
A day before the bill was signed into law, a coalition of over a dozen of health care organizations held a press conference on Capitol Hill, declaring their support for the reform and urging the Senate to pass the reconciliation bill.
The same day, Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit organization of 17,000 physicians and health professionals, published their study of the House health bill. According to PNHP, about 23 million people will remain uninsured nine years out. The Real News’ Ania Smolenskaia spoke with Dr. Margaret Flowers form PNHP and Norman Solomon, journalist and media critic, about their take on the health care situation.
ANIA SMOLENSKAIA, TRNN: On Tuesday, President Obama signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. Before making it official, he listed positive aspects of the reform.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need. Insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people’s coverage when they get sick. They won’t be able to place lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care they can receive. Once this reform is implemented, health insurance exchanges will be created, a competitive marketplace where uninsured people and small businesses will finally be able to purchase affordable, quality assurance. They will be able to be part of a big pool and get the same good deal that members of Congress get. That’s what’s going to happen under this reform.
SMOLENSKAIA: The bill has been proclaimed historic, and the media, following administration’s lead, called the House vote a victory. But supporters of the health reform are divided on the merits of the legislation.
NORMAN SOLOMON, JOURNALIST AND MEDIA CRITIC: To call this a victory for health care as a human right, I think, is a mistake. This is not a victory. It is as much a victory for corporate America and for price gouging and for exploitation as it is anything else.
SMOLENSKAIA: A day before the bill was signed into law, a coalition of over a dozen of health care organizations held a press conference on Capitol Hill, declaring their support for the reform and urging the Senate to pass the reconciliation bill.
CROWD: What’s the word? Reconciliation! What’s the [inaudible]? Health care for the nation!
LAUREN HUGHES, M.D., AMERICAN MEDICAL STUDENT ASSOCIATION: And we supported a public option [inaudible] we supported the more robust version of a bill to begin with, but we’re absolutely delighted with what has happened so far and are proud to stand by our partners.
JUDITH PALFREY, M.D., AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: This is a day to be very proud of America, to be a very proud democracy, and we’re finally going to be able to hold our heads up straight. How can we hold our heads up when we see the European countries, all the other countries having better health-care outcomes, everybody covered, and we don’t? That’s going to change.
SMOLENSKAIA: The same day, Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit organization of 17,000 physicians and health professionals, published their study of the House health bill. According to PNHP, about 23 million people will remain uninsured nine years out.
MARGARET FLOWERS, M.D., PHYSICIANS FOR A NATIONAL HEALTH PROGRAM: It’s clear to us that this legislation will not significantly increase the number of people that have coverage, will still result in bankruptcies due to medical debt, and foreclosures on homes due to medical debt, will still keep the problems that we have in this countryï¿½it’s not addressing those problems. They’re trying to regulate the insurance industry, but that’s been tried over and over and they are too powerful. It doesn’t work. They find a way around it.
MANDY COHEN, M.D., DOCTORS FOR AMERICA: I know that there are critics out there who say we didn’t go far enough and we did compromise, but, you know, that’s what we do in a democracy: we compromise and we keep working. We know that no bill is perfect and no legislation is perfect, and we are not going anywhere, because as doctors and nurses we’re going to be the ones that implement this, and we’re going to see firsthand the holes that might be in this legislation.
FLOWERS: There are some things that people could say are positive aspects, but overall it’s not a solution. It will do more harm than good. And remember that manyï¿½most of the provisions [in] the legislation don’t even kick in for four more years, and the legislation forces people to purchase insurance, but no guarantee that it’s going to be affordable. [You’re] still going to have [to] face financial barriers of co-pays and deductibles. You’re still going to have uncovered services that you have to pay for out of your own pocket. You still have to go through the restrictions of which doctors you can see and which you can’t, which treatment you can get, which you can’t. It’s not changing the fundamental problem that we have in this country.
SOLOMON: I think that it’s a negative to have a combination of huge amounts of dollars from the US Treasury going into a private, insurance-based health care, for-profit system, and not giving people an option to use their own money or government money for something that is not-for-profit when we’re talking about a human right, which is health care. A lot of the 32 million people we keep hearing about who will be covered will be covered by adding them as low-income people to the Medicaid rolls. And so the availability of health care providers who will take people covered by Medicaid is an open question.
COHEN: The Medicaid program is strapped right now, but one important thing that’s going to come in reconciliation is actually increased payments for primary care doctors in the Medicaid program.
SOLOMON: The reimbursement rates may be shored up for a while, but then, over a period of time, those are going to be chipped away at. As a matter of fact, I think that’s one of the big dangers, that this is all going to be put in the category of an entitlement. And people here on Capitol Hill love to attack entitlements and cut and reduce and tighten belts, and that’s been the experience of many people. For instance, look at the families who suffered so-called welfare reform in the mid-1990s. How can it be an entitlement that the political system can titrate and slice that and dice and reduce over a period of time? If it’s a human right, is the law not saying that some human right is more a human right than others? [That] Some people have a full human right, some people have a partial human right, some people are in a full-blown, quality-health-care human right, and some are down there in the basement of human rights that’s called Medicaid?
SMOLENSKAIA: Having backed out of the original promise to oppose the bill unless it contains a robust public option, progressive Democrats have now returned to the discussion of government-funded insurance. Lynn Woolsey, cochair of Congressional Progressive Caucus, has announced her intention to reintroduce a robust public option.
REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D-CA): I will introduce a robust public option on the very day that the president signs the health-care reconciliation bill into law.
SMOLENSKAIA: The Senate is going to try to pass the budget reconciliation bill this week. Under the rules, senators have 20 hours to debate the bill, and amendments would be very limited or none at all.
SOLOMON: This effort from some in the House and Senate to say, okay, now that we’ve passed a new health-care bill that is a profound reform, we’re told: now we’re going to go back and get a public option. It is beyond credulity, I believe, that in 2011 the Congress will pass a public option when the president has refused to fight for it in the past.