Most of us were glued to the TV set last night waiting to
see what President Obama was going to say about the future of the health care
reform bill given its now uncertain fate in Congress. As I settled in to watch
with my husband and one of my girls (the other one sadly could not be pried
away from reading New Moon), I found myself getting antsy.
Why do we find ourselves in this situation? Why isn’t he
announcing that he signed the bill today?
Passing comprehensive health care reform legislation is
extraordinarily difficult. Passing any comprehensive bill is difficult these
days. But I have very little patience at this point for the political pundits
and everybody else assessing the political calculations of whether passing the
bill is the right political choice. Personally I think it is. And I thought the
President did a nice job in his speech last night in making clear that he wants
to see a bill. But the public wants to see results — results that will improve
the lives of families.
Having worked on public policy issues affecting
low-income families for the last twenty years in Washington it’s easy to become
cynical. It’s almost embarrassing to let your compassion for people show
through in public without citing research and data and carefully crafted
messages. Here goes, I’m going to let the policy wonk take a backseat and talk
about people because that’s what this is really all about — people who need
results from our leaders.
Children need health care reform to ensure that they have
access to affordable comprehensive coverage. Yes kids have done relatively well
with our current assortment of public programs, but not everywhere. Some states
are leaders, but other states will never catch up. And the current state fiscal
crisis reminds us that until we have a universal, federal guarantee of
comprehensive coverage for children we will be selling our kids short.
Parents need access to affordable coverage options that
don’t disappear when they lose a job or become sick. Coverage of low-income
parents through Medicaid is inadequate at best and almost non-existent in some
states. Children do better when their parents have health coverage. Expanding
Medicaid coverage to all parents below a specified income level regardless of
where they live, as both bills do, would be an enormous victory for the most
vulnerable families in our nation.
So-called “childless adults” need access to affordable
coverage options. OK the first two are kind of no-brainers for childrens’
advocates. So why do I keep finding myself thinking about two “childless
adults” that I met in 1991 when I was writing a report on homeless veterans?
Childless adults are not politically popular. But I can’t get the stories of
these two men out of my head.
Both of these men were Vietnam veterans and had seen
combat duty in Vietnam. One was white and one was black. One was a Member of
Congress who was the primary sponsor of a bill to help homeless veterans (I’ll
call him Al) and one was a homeless veteran (I’ll call him Bill) who was an
eloquent spokesperson. At the time that I did the report, I met Bill who was
living in his truck. He had, ironically, been working in the Senate as a
maintenance worker who moved furniture around. But one night a woman got shot
outside his apartment. A shotgun ripped off half of her face. Bill went out to
help her (he had served as a combat medic in Vietnam), and she died in his
arms. This tragedy triggered PTSD and his blood pressure soared. He lost his
job and his health insurance and got little help from the VA. He ended up
living in his truck. He was a “childless adult” with no insurance.
Now let’s turn to the former Congressman. Surely he
doesn’t need any help from the pending bills?? Well it turns out that because
this public servant was an extraordinarily dedicated guy, he turned down all of
the perks of his job (the pension and the health insurance). Then, at an early
age, he developed Parkinson’s disease. And because he had the audacity to live
longer than expected, Al has hit the lifetime cap on his insurance policy. Now
people have to have fundraisers to pay his medical costs. Pending bills would
remove lifetime caps.
So let’s all redouble our efforts to pass health reform.
For the kids, their parents and for Al and Bill.