Health Care Finally Passes

Hazel Trice Edney | 3/24/2010, 9:29 a.m.

It finally passed.

The health care bill that President Barack Obama has vehemently fought for since Day One at the White House finally passed both houses of Congress and is now headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for his signature.

As Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members celebrated the 219-212 vote, the President put the historic moment in perspective, Sun., March 21.

€Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America€s workers and America's families and America's small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they€ve worked a lifetime to achieve,€ the president said.

He explained that if Americans have health insurance, the reform provides them more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections the country has ever known. Further, he said that Americans will get what they actually pay for.

€If you don€t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history -- so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you€ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it,€ the commander-in-chief said.

President Obama has fought long and hard for the bill, his resolve escalated after the death of his friend and former colleague Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in August 2009. Kennedy was considered the Senate€s champion of health care reform. The bill passed the Senate on Christmas Eve.

Still, many wonder what it all means for African Americans who are subjected to the lowest quality health care. Members of the CBC said they believe the bill will have a significant impact in the Black community.

€We cast our votes for all those people who deserve health care but simply can€t afford it. We cast our votes for our senior citizens who will see their prescription drug costs go down. We cast our votes for our children and grandchildren, so that they can live longer, fuller and healthier lives. We cast our votes in the memory of those people who didn€t have preventive care and died prematurely,€ according to a statement released from the offices of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Lee applauded passage of the bill.

€We were vocal advocates for provisions in the bill to combat health disparities, illnesses and diseases that disproportionately affect our community. To those who suffer from those health disparities, our vote tonight carries significance similar to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in that it fulfills a dream that has been elusive for far too long and for far too many Americans.€

CBC members insisted that additional provisions be incorporated into the bill.

According to a CBC document, other key provisions in the legislation included: expanded support for community health centers, which play a vital role in expanding access to preventive care in our nation€s most vulnerable communities, greater support for programs that will increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the nation€s health workforce, along with improved data collection for better measurement of health inequities. Strengthening the existing Office of Minority Health at Health and Human Services (HHS), creating new Offices of Minority Health across HHS agencies and establishing the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. This will hold private insurers accountable while ensuring affordability and quality coverage for American families.

In addition to significant health care provisions, the CBC also fought for the inclusion of important education provisions: an investment of $35 billion over 10 years to increase the maximum annual Pell Grant to $5,550 in 2010 and to $5,975 by 2017.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) also applauded the long-awaited passage.
The signatures of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on the health insurance reform bill signed in the East Room of the White House, Tues., March 23. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy
€Despite deafening protests from the other side, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the reforms included in this bill will reduce our deficit by $143 billion in the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years. This bill will also create jobs, 400,000 good-paying jobs, reliable jobs, for every year and for small businesses,€ Clyburn said.

€Small businesses will get a tax break on their health care premiums that will free up money for them to hire 80,000 more employees,€ he said in his floor speech.

Clyburn said that the health care debate spans several generations and that the time has come to act.

€This is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st Century. Tonight, we will take a significant step to move our country forward.€