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Monday, March 22, 2010  

Victory

With due consideration for the shortcomings of the bills, the long battles needed to make their reforms work for everyone, and the excruciating politics of the whole thing, last night's vote is something to celebrate. For the long-term welfare of the world, carbon legislation is more important, and for avoiding another economic catastrophe, financial reform is probably more pressing. But nothing in the sphere of domestic policy-making hits me at such a gut level as health care.

My family is, at the moment, a pretty fine showcase for the status quo. We have insurance through my wife's employer, and while we've paid a ton of money out of pocket, our insurance has covered most of what we've needed to have done. But all you need to do is start daydreaming to see the limits of the system we have. We are not, for instance, in a very stable field of employment. And anyone can develop a chronic illness that makes working impossible and new insurance totally unavailable. I pray nightly for the health of my parents, now five years shy of Medicare eligibility, because even as prudent and solid as they are, nothing can protect you from an ill-timed gap in employer-provided coverage.

Moreover, once you've spent a good chunk of your professional life around people who are truly poor, the idea that we allow people to go without decent insurance as a consequence of poverty becomes infuriating. We are being licensed to serve as foster parents, and we have been informed that foster children have medical cards. Of course, you have to find a doctor who will accept public aid patients. Dentists, too--since kids come with a lot of dental problems. And be sure not to sign any forms if you have to take the kid to the hospital--they will bill you and it could be ruinous. The drumbeat of stories and cautions is deafening. All of it is so unnecessary. The rest of the rich world avoids these absurdities. There is no earthly reason, not at all, that we shouldn't too. It sickens me that we still think of the welfare of children as totally expendable, and I'll admit to having little patience for people who don't see it that way.

So I'm not feeling especially charitable today toward Atrios, who sighs that this "isn't what we voted for." No it isn't, and the paltry matter of insuring 30 million people to one side I can see his point. I'm not feeling charitable toward Ross Douthat, who needs someone to pinky-swear with him that the excise tax will actually be put into effect and we work really hard to only spend money on wars and tax cuts. I don't care about any of that stuff. Yes, we'll need to fix the deficit. Yes we'll need to rein in insurance companies. But we can no longer make the basic dignity of human beings take a back seat to those concerns. Because the fact is that no one is wearing a green eyeshade when it's their own family's survival at stake. If a health care system in which I can take a foster child to any doctor or dentist ends up costing more money than we thought and forcing us to make hard choices, that is fine with me. If we can't manage our own democracy and we end up defaulting on our debt, I can live with that more easily than I can with the thought that the value of a human life is pegged to the job it does.

At bottom this was never a complicated moral issue. The means--public option, excise tax, whatever--were so drastically secondary to the goal that the amount of time we spent arguing about them was not creditable. It was always much more important to do this than to do it in a way that satisfies us emotionally. Thank God we've taken such a step.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 2:02 PM
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