Addressing Families USA’s annual conference in Washington last week, a pair of Democratic Midwestern senators endorsed universal health care for all Americans and said they think the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a good step toward achieving that goal.
Wisconsin’s freshman Sen. Tammy Baldwin opened Health Action 2013 with a rejection of the idea that premium medical treatment is a “privilege” for a lucky few, a sentiment echoed minutes later by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Both senators thanked members of the nonprofit advocacy group Families USA, whose grassroots and watchdog efforts they said was crucial to passing PPACA.
“I have to say these gatherings have gotten a lot more fun since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law a little over two years ago,” Baldwin said, to considerable applause. “You know that victory was 70 years in the making, and it belongs to so many people who were part of this long fight.”
Baldwin, who was first elected to Congress in 1999, said “the guiding moral principle behind universal health care is that no one should fall through the cracks,” but that it is up to those in charge of managing, handling and enforcing PPACA as to “whether this new law lives up to this principle” or if it falls short.
Stabenow, who has served in the Senate since 2001, agreed. “I share Sen. Baldwin’s feeling that [PPACA] is a first step,” Stabenow said. “In my vision, some day we see Medicare for all, so this is a step forward. But in life, in change, in democracy, we take it step-by-step, and this is the biggest step that we have taken. And you can tell that by the intensity of the fight on the other side. You can always tell you are making a difference by the size of the pushback.”
Stabenow told a story of a young family who invited her to a Detroit medical hospital to visit the infant daughter who they said might not be alive were it not for health care reform — a pre-existing condition could have prevented insurance from covering a crucial operation. The subject is close to the heart, and memory, of Baldwin as well.
“I was raised by my grandparents,” Baldwin said. “They were heroes to me. When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with a serious childhood illness, similar to spinal meningitis. I spent three months in the hospital. My grandparents had health insurance — a family plan — but many policies, including theirs, was written in a way that excluded grandchildren. They weren’t allowed to list me as a dependent; their insurance wouldn’t cover my care.
“I got better and my grandparents looked for an insurance policy that would cover me in the future, but they discovered that, because of my illness, they couldn’t find such a policy. Not from any insurer, not at any price. My story is significant because it’s not unique. When the ACA was signed into law, 19 million American children wore that same brand: pre-existing condition, uninsurable.”
No household, Baldwin said, should have to live in fear that a sudden illness or emergency could wipe out the finances of a family with a child lacking health insurance. That’s why no pre-existing conditions will bar coverage in the future, she said, and why she “was proud to champion the provision that allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26 years old.”
“We know there’s a lot more to come and we know that we’ve got a lot of work to do: setting up the exchanges, making sure they work, making sure people understand the tax credits and subsidies that will make health care more affordable,” Stabenow said. “We need to do more for small businesses. So much misinformation has gone out to small businesses. We need to continue to work on accurate information on what they need to do provide insurance for themselves and their own employees as well.”
In her closing remarks, Baldwin said there’s been an ideological attack on entitlement culture in recent months, with the implication that those who use government programs are greedy or lazy. However, she said, “we should feel entitled to health care. In the United States of America, health care should be a right guaranteed to all, not a privilege for the few.”
Read Thursday’s inBrief for more from Families USA’s Health Action 2013 conference.
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