Historic health vote

The vote Sunday night in the U.S. House of Representatives was unquestionably historic. Whether historians will one day view that vote as reverently as the passage of Social Security, or whether it will be “a day that will live in infirmary,” as numerous Internet wags put it, we cannot predict.

No one can deny, however, that it was a victory for President Barack Obama, who refused to give up on health care reform even when members of his own party were urging him to move on to other issues. But many people believe that victory came at a huge cost to the Democratic Party, not to mention the federal budget.

Certainly Republicans have a new rallying cry: “Repeal it!”

The success of that effort is also impossible to forecast. But it is obvious the congressional elections of 2010 will amount to a referendum on the just-passed and about-to-be-fixed health care bill.

There will also be ongoing fights over the effort to fix the Senate bill that was passed by the House Sunday night and is to be signed by the president today. Additionally, at least seven states are planning to mount legal challenges to all or parts of the legislation. And more legal action is expected.

The political ramifications represent only one aspect of Sunday’s vote, however. More important, for most Americans, are the public-policy effects.

We have stated numerous times our concerns about the different versions of the health care legislation pushed over the past year. Primary among them are the gargantuan costs and what they may do to federal deficits. Tied to those are the questionable revenue plans that are supposed to offset those costs.

The many sweetheart deals struck to win passage of the bill — with fence-straddling congressmen, insurance organizations and others — also taint the bill.

But that does not mean there is nothing worthwhile in it.

Most importantly there is the fact it will extend health insurance to an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans. That will help reduce costs, created in part by emergency-room visits by the uninsured. Those costs are now paid by everyone else in the system.

Eliminating insurance rules that prevent coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is also a plus. Why, for instance, should the parents of an infant born with a physical ailment be unable to obtain insurance for that child?

Then there are the multitude of pilot programs included in the legislation, aimed at testing different strategies for making our health care system more effective and cost-efficient. Those programs may be the most critical part of the bill.

Finally, even if the GOP is not successful in repealing the new health care legislation adopted this week, it can still be changed. Republicans working with President Bill Clinton passed major welfare reforms in the late 1990s that greatly changed that system. Health care can also be amended as new data becomes available.

That may very well require another historic vote, however.


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