MERIDEN, Conn. – “The lie lasts until the truth arrives,” declared Frances G. Padilla, acting president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, at a press conference launching a public information campaign about the benefits of the recently enacted health care reform.
Standing with an array of labor, clergy, small business and health care advocates, Padilla borrowed a popular Spanish language expression to underscore the importance of countering the corporate misinformation barrage, costing “hundreds of millions of dollars,” that aims to “scare people about health care reform and turn the public dialogue into a war of words.”
The struggle to implement health care reform and to strengthen it will be fierce in every state. Continued mobilization is required, and is under way, by those who pushed the bill through the seemingly impenetrable blockage of the right wing.
From the moment the reform bill was signed into law by President Obama, having reached his desk with not even one Republican vote in Congress, the highly funded right wing began to ramp up its media campaign claiming those with benefits would lose them and that the bill will bankrupt future generations.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led the call for repeal, and 17 Republican governors instructed their attorneys general to file lawsuits as a means of stalling implementation so the benefits of the bill would not be felt before November’s elections.
During the congressional recess, Democratic members of Congress addressed hundreds of press conferences, informational forums and community meetings with constituents to counter the lies and explain the features of the bill.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a special web site, healthreform.gov, and is offering conference calls to answer questions and provide necessary information.
This year, children will be allowed to stay on their parent’s insurance plans until age 26; insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions; small businesses will get tax incentives to provide health benefits to workers; and high-risk individuals will be able to join federally-subsidized pools to help them buy insurance. The health insurance exchange is scheduled to open in 2014.
While the bill falls far short of single-payer or public option, it served to break through the barrier of the obstructionists and will benefit millions of people. The struggle for not-for-profit health care continues on a higher plane. If the bill had been defeated, it would have been a victory for the race-baiting, fascist-like crowd.
The victory for this bill is part of the fight for more advanced demands. Millions of people were activated, and learned practical lessons in tactics and organizing at the grass roots and inside Congress. Health Care for American Now reported that 200,000 calls were made to Congress plus the millions of calls from the coalition’s member organizations. On one day, over 1 million calls flooded Congress. Activists sent 600,000 faxes, signed 350,000 petitions and held 3,000 rallies.
The opposition to the bill and its implementation is not just about health care. The Republican tactic of obstruction applies to every piece of legislation that moves in a progressive direction, including such basic workers’ needs as extension of unemployment compensation. It is vicious and life-threatening, as pointed out by Rep. Alan Grayson from Florida.
One aspect of the bill that is especially objectionable to corporate forces is that it contains the biggest shift in wealth from the top back to the majority in decades. This is the result of the extension of the Medicare tax to income above $250,000, including dividends and capital gains, to pay for the provisions. Beyond health care, the bill includes federal takeover of student loans, making college more affordable and reversing 30 years of privatization.
The bill is also objectionable to the extreme right because it confirms that government does have a role to play in the well-being of the people, a major point of contention in the 2010 election rhetoric.
The racism of the extremists and the extent to which they are willing to go to bring down the Obama administration shocked the nation when, on the eve of the vote on the bill, several African American members and one gay member of Congress were taunted with hate language and spat at and a brick was thrown through one congresswoman’s office window.
However, this incitement did not hold sway in the special election in Florida this week, which the extremists called the first referendum on health care. Democrat Ted Deutsch won over 60 percent of the vote to fill the vacancy in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Voters rejected the Republican candidate’s call to “repeal the not so gradual government takeover of the health insurance system that subverts our constitution and is an offense against freedom loving Americans who want no part of government run health care.”
Last year in Connecticut, following a major coalition effort lasting several years, the legislature ove-rode a veto by the Republican governor and passed SustiNet, providing the framework for a public option in Connecticut that will operate within the national health care exchange.
“Connecticut has been a leader in health care reform with the passage of SustiNet,” John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, told the press conference here. “Now with the achievement of a federal health care bill our state has an opportunity to provide real relief to many desperate families.”
The many organizations represented at the event pledged to carry the campaign forward, with road tours, forums and panel discussions in towns throughout Connecticut to hold policymakers accountable for implementation.
Photo: Health care advocates thank Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., for passage of the health care bill during a forum at the children’s hospital in Hartford, Conn. (PW/Tom Connolly)