Guest Column (9/24/09)

Recognizing a health care victory

Sept. 24, 2009

By Judy Bevans

It has been a tough summer for reasoned debate, the democratic process and health care. Many of us are worried that the president will not be able to keep one of his major promises: affordable health care accessible to all. We worry that conservatives will demand more and more compromises on major elements of the health care package.

For most of us, this fight is not so much about policy or politics — it’s personal. And if we’re disappointed on health care this fall, that disappointment will be personal, too.

It’s personal for the 72 percent of Americans who understand that the patchwork of profit centers posing as a health care “system” isn’t working for anyone except the insurance companies. It’s even personal for the protestors screaming at legislators in Town Hall meetings: They’re afraid they’ll lose the little they’ve got.

We ask each other, “How can Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress fail us on health care? How can there not be universal access, single payer, a public option, tighter regulation to prevent insurance company abuses?” We are looking in the wrong direction in assigning responsibility for obstruction and being too shortsighted to recognize a victory when it is within our grasp.

As Samuel Adams said, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.” The sickness profiteers have been setting those brushfires so they can continue to make obscene incomes from denying health care to people who have paid their premiums in good faith. They are responsible for whatever degree the health care bill does not measure up to our highest hopes for real change.

But we must look beyond assigning responsibility for obstructionism to the Republicans and their corporate allies.

First, we ourselves need to do everything we can do to show our support for health insurance reform and for President Barack Obama, who put it on the national agenda. We need to mobilize so that the 72 percent of us who want reform are not out-shouted by the 28 percent frightened by it. We are the only cure for Congressional “spine flu.” We need to participate in meetings, e-mail our senators and congressman and talk to our neighbors armed with real information to counter the myths propagated by reform opponents.

Second, we must remember that the democratic process always produces compromises. When Social Security finally passed in 1935, it didn’t cover many teachers, nurses, hospital workers, librarians and social workers, among others. It wasn’t implemented for two years. And by the way, the first recipient of monthly Social Security benefits (in 1940) was Vermonter Ida May Fuller of Ludlow.

The Social Security Act of 1935 was the beginning of a program now seen as essential to any civilized society caring for its elders. It has been modified almost 50 times since then, including the addition of Medicare in 1965, 30 years later.

Whatever health care reform bill passes Congress this year, even when it falls short of our most serious needs and strongest ideals, is a victory — and we Democrats need to claim it as a victory. That bill will be the foundation that will allow us to build something better as time goes on. By shepherding an insurance reform bill through Congress this year, President Obama will have achieved something that eluded Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

And that, friends, is a victory.

President Obama has stood up for the America we want to live in, and now we need to do the same. We won’t give up on getting the best bill possible, we’ll work without ceasing, and we’ll recognize and claim victory when it comes.

And later on, we’ll make the Health Insurance Reform Act of 2009 a program that comes closer and closer to meeting America’s real health care needs.

Judy Bevans is the chairwoman of the Vermont Democratic Party.