Health Reform Moves Forward

The bipartisan passage of the House health reform bill Sat. Nov. 7 met with mainly positive reviews from the labor and democratic movements. Political disputes over abortion rights, however, threaten total unity for passage of a final bill.

Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration claimed a huge victory as the passage of this bill puts the country one step closer to a fix for the broken healthcare system. Many consider a major healthcare overhaul a key feature of the Democratic Party’s “brand.”

Democrats have included national health reform in their agenda since President Truman saw his national health service proposal collapse in 1947 due to concerted Republican, insurance company and medical industry pressure against it.

This year, the leading doctors' associations, senior advocacy groups and sections of the medical and pharmaceutical drug industry have joined broad public support for health reform.

In a statement, President Obama said that health reform 'will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable options for those who don't; and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses and our government, while strengthening the financial health of Medicare.'

President Obama praised members of Congress who voted for the bill. 'I know that this was a courageous vote for many members of Congress, and I'm grateful to them and for the rest of their colleagues for taking us this far,' he said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka applauded the outcome of the vote as well and urged continued struggle for passage of the Senate version of the bill. 'It is time to say 'yes' to a more secure future for Americans—and that is how the majority in the House of Representatives answered,' he noted in a statement.

'It is time to say 'yes' to lowering health costs, breaking the stranglehold of the insurance companies and extending health care to those in our rich country who are sick and need it,' Trumka added.

Richard Kirsch, the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, also praised members of Congress who supported the bill. “It takes courage to stand up to the lies and scare tactics,' he said. 'It's imperative voters understand the important role these Members of Congress have played in taking an historic step, voting yes, and siding with constituents instead of the health insurance industry.'

Health Care for America Now plans to run TV ads in key congressional districts praising members who voted for the bill.

In an e-mail to members and supporters the Service Employees International Union celebrated passage of the bill. The union e-mail also praised working people who spoke up in support of health reform. 'We couldn't have come this far without everyday Americans stepping forward, speaking out, and refusing to let the status quo remain in Washington,' the e-mail read in part.

League of Women Voters (LWV) National President Mary G. Wilson praised the vote. “We now have a set of real reforms that provides comprehensive coverage and includes a public insurance option, which we believe is key to ensuring choice and controlling costs,' she indicated.

Some supporters of health reform expressed disappointment, however, at the passage of an amendment authored by Reps. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and several Republicans which may restrict a woman's right to choose when to be pregnant.

Currently, federal law prohibits the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. This rule, passed in 1976, is known as the Hyde amendment.

According to analysis from the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Stupak amendment would go much further than the Hyde amendment. If this version of the bill survives, in addition to disallowing coverage for the cost of abortions, the bill would prevent women who receive federal subsidies for health insurance from even using their own money to pay for abortion services.

According to the analysis, even women who choose private insurance plans n the newly created exchange could also be prevented from using their money to pay for abortion services.

NOW explained that it would oppose passage of a bill with these provisions. In a statement NOW President Terry O'Neill urged the Senate to 'to pass a health care bill that respects women's constitutionally protected right to abortion.' She called on 'President Obama to refuse to sign any health care bill that restricts women's access to affordable, quality reproductive health care.'

In a separate statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards 'condemned' passage of the Stupak amendment. She expressed her organization’s commitment to passing health care reform that will guarantee affordable, quality health care coverage for all, including access to comprehensive reproductive health care.'

LWV's Wilson added, “It is our hope that the Senate will do the right thing and pass health care reform legislation without such language and with a strong public option.”

Following passage of the bill, President Obama expressed his own concerns about the issue. He stated that hopes the final bill will not move beyond the status quo on abortion rights or limit the choices women have in selecting health insurance plans.

The Stupak amendment passed with a large bipartisan majority. Most Republicans who supported the amendment, however, refused to support its final passage. Instead, the obeyed the GOP’s hardline leadership’s orders to vote against any health reform bill.