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Obama, Pelosi Secure Century-Long Goal of Universal Healthcare

By March 22, 2010

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With the House's historic passage today of health care reform legislation, President Obama, a charismatic visionary, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a legislator of legendary proportions, paired their formidable talents to accomplish the moral goal of most U.S. presidents, both liberal and conservative, for a century: to ensure that every American has access to health care.

House passage of H.R. 3590 by a vote of 219 to 212, as amended by H.R. 4872, the Reconciliation Act of 2010, establishes, once and for all, that health care is a right, and not a wealth-based privilege.

Some benefits start as soon as President Obama signs H.R. 3590, which could occur as early as today. See First Year Changes Under Obama's Health Care Reform Bill for a comprehensive listing of near-term changes.

But before Congress and the media descend back into political machinations of the moment, take a few minutes to reflect on one-hundred years of American presidents who sought and valiantly worked toward this great achievement.

President Theodore Roosevelt
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, running for a third presidential term, supported health insurance for all Americans via his party platform, which stated:

"The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for ... the protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use."

----- Source - St. Petersburg Times PolitiFact.com

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
On November 14, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt "promised reformers that national health insurance would someday be enacted," and commented to a Washington D.C. the Conference on Economic Security:

"Whether we come to this form of insurance soon or later on, I am confident that we can devise a system which will enhance and not hinder the remarkable progress which has been made and is being made in practice of the professions of medicine and surgery in the United States."

----- Source - Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, 1999, article by Jaap Kooijman

President Harry S. Truman
President Harry S. Truman publicly advocated for universal health care "each year from 1945 through to his last days as President, and beyond that - his message was the same; Health Care was imperative to the millions who couldn't afford it and the millions who were denied it."

To the 1955 annual convention of the American Public Health Association, Harry Truman orated:

"Ten years ago almost to this very day, on November the 19th Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Five, I sent a special message on Health to the Congress of the United States.... I sent that message to Congress because this great nation was doing so little to safeguard its most precious asset, the health and well-being of its citizens."

----- Source - Newstalgia, Harry Truman's Never Ending Quest For Health Care Reform

President Bill Clinton
In a speech to the nation on September 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton noted:

"Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance and one serious illness away from losing all their savings. Millions more are locked into the jobs they have now just because they or someone in their family has once been sick and they have what is called the preexisting condition. And on any given day, over 37 million Americans, most of them working people and their little children, have no health insurance at all...

"And in spite of all this, our medical bills are growing at over twice the rate of inflation, and the United States spends over a third more of its income on health care than any other nation on Earth. And the gap is growing... There is no excuse for this kind of system... My fellow Americans, we must fix this system, and it has to begin with congressional action."

----- Source - University of Virginia, Miller Center of Public Affairs

Other presidents who spoke out for universal healthcare for all Americans included John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Richard Nixon.

For a impressively complete archive dating back to 1789, see A historical look at health care legislation at Boston.com, by AP.

God bless America, which is continually in pursuit of becoming a more perfect nation. Today, our nation became a bit more perfect for every man, woman and child, and not just for the privileged.

As President Obama said this evening, "This is what change looks like."

(Photo taken on March 17, 2010: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Comments

March 22, 2010 at 3:09 am
(1) Riley says:

Congrats on the big “victory”. Good luck getting that recon bill through the Senate. See ya in court and at the ballot box in November. Bear it well in mind that the particulars of the debate are well documented and when ObamaCare train wrecks as opponents have argued, we’ll be there to say we told you so. Perhaps then liberal progressive theories of government and society can go into the circular file of history where they belong.

March 22, 2010 at 5:20 am
(2) Taylor Kantor says:

This is the problem with our federal government. We have so many idiotic liberals that want a perfect utopia in America, not understanding that it’s simply an impossibility. How are we ever going to pay for something like socialized medicine, a more realistic term for what Obama wants you to think of as “Universal Healthcare”, with America already trillions of dollars in debt? Most of this money is going to come from the middle class, the people who actually work for their living and still have trouble in this economy simply providing the necessities to their families. And those who sit at the bottom of society, looking up to the government to get their daily handouts now have something more to look forward to. Instead of giving them more, why don’t we make them aspire to be better than sitting on the streets, degrading society and accepting government handouts. America is a country that gives you the Pursuit of happiness. Do you really think our Founding Fathers would have wanted Universal healthcare in the U.S. Constitution? The answer is no, simply because it IS NOT A RIGHT. Healthcare is a PRIVILEGE. Our government has always given the people of this country the opportunity to reach success. This country was built on these principles. To allow any one to achieve greatness by working hard. Today, however, people are content with not working. And why shouldn’t they be? However, why should the middle class have to suffer even more to provide a commodity to those who don’t work for a living, or to those who don’t aspire to be more? Granted, there are many people in the lower class who work hard and simply haven’t caught a break. But that is simply life. Unfortunately, their has to be poor and their has to be rich. We can’t have an economy as imagined by the former U.S.S.R. It has been proven that it is simply impossible. But Amendments like Universal Healthcare are aiming for just that. Besides, America has, in my opinion, the best healthcare system in the world. And no, we are not 37th in the world as those stats were from 2000 and the WHO (World Health Organization) stopped doing these stats as they proclaimed “there are too many variables to judge in determining rank of a healthcare system”. Besides, politicians make it out to seem like people are left out on the streets to die. No, emergency medical treatment that will save someone’s life cannot be denied to them, even if they can’t pay for it. Who has to pay for it? You and I do. The people of America. And I am fine with that. But I am not going to pay for someone content with accepting government handouts to obtain an abortion (which, oh by the way, is proclaimed in the healthcare bill) simply because they don’t want to grow up and take on some responsibility. I can understand people wanting healthcare for all, and in a perfect society, that would be ideal. However, we don’t live in a perfect society and no, we can’t change it to be perfect. Healthcare is not a right. It is, however, a privilege. There are some things in this world that you have to earn. Or at least there were. We can thank Obama in a few years when we start to see our economy further degrade itself into debt.

March 22, 2010 at 7:01 am
(3) John Ballard says:

Deborah, I thought about leaving a rejoinder but decided it would be a waste of energy.

The question is whether Republicans will continue to paint the party into a corner or or attempt damage control. The next step in the process is moderation of the Senate bill which now becomes law. How can they argue against moderation of their own previous language? The idea defies logic.

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March 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm
(4) jimbo says:

Note that all the presidents reference are Democrats. Roosevelt tried to stop the American dream, and now Obama is continuing that tradition. This bill is aimed directly at small businesses –the ones who create jobs, develop new ideas and products, and are the backbone of American ingenuity. Who is going to pay for this? Bye, Bye, America. Here comes the USSR again (United Socialistic States Republic).

March 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm
(5) czero says:

Wow, now healthcare is a privilege and not a right? That statement just goes to show that people will stop at nothing to rationalize ideas that benefit them. Conservatives take notice: If you focus only on the past you cannot see what lies ahead. They (conservatives) keep romanticizing about a fictional time when everyone’s hard work was rewarded equally and all you needed to get ahead in life was good old fashioned determination…and no one needed health insurance because you didn’t live past 60. Well in 2010 most would agree that modern medicine has vastly improved our quality of life and should not be restricted to only those who are wealthy. NON SIBI SED OMNIBUS!

March 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm
(6) usliberals says:

Jimbo, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican. Another Republican president who strongly supported health care reform was Richard Nixon.

March 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm
(7) Maria Spngenberg says:

The medicare and SS programs will crumble….why don’t we fix them BEFORE creating another bureaucracy…..I don’t think any rational human being is opposed to reform….it’s simply too costly RIGHT NOW…fix the problems FIRST!!!
Obama, I gave you a chance, you are a JERK and a dictator!

March 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm
(8) Gradymusic says:

This Bill is a major step in the right direction ! Hurray for Obama ! For those of you whose comments are are in the negative…just keep in mind none of you mentioned all the money being wasted on the ridiculous war(s) the Bush Administration got us into

March 22, 2010 at 8:50 pm
(9) John Ballard says:

The medicare and SS programs will crumble…

This is a frequently repeated nostrum with no basis in reality. Social Security is not only strong but during my entire lifetime — even now — the revenue collected from payroll taxes for Social Security is a SURPLUS, more than is required for current payouts. Last projection I heard was that the break-even point (which is usually what is meant by “going broke”) is still six years out. At that time, presumably, if Congress takes no measures to increase the amounts being collected funding will come from cashing in US Treasury notes called the Social Security Trust Fund.

Long before that, however, a tweak in the system will raise or remove the cap on Social Security contributions by which high wage earners escape contributions year after year. The annual cap on SS taxes may be the best-kept secret in America.

As for Medicare, the program is so larded with pork and overrun by fraud and inefficiencies that it’s a wonder it has lasted as long as it has. The current legislation isn’t as potent as it would have been correcting the problems of Medicare, thanks to the shrill, ignorant ranting of its critics, but enough survived that Medicare is on the way to some serious improvements, beginning with phasing out Medicare Advantage and opening the way for a few pilot projects that will yield savings.

Every time I see one of those ads on TV peddling motorized chairs, promising the viewer it will be “free, or we will pay for it anyway” I want to yell at the TV. Durable medical equipment is important but in my line of work I see more unnecessary waste than I can count. I’m expecting that new oversight will soon start making a big dent in such waste.

Health care reform started with ARRA and most people outside the system are still unaware. Two years from now the results will be dramatic. And the people who derisively called what is happening “Obamacare” will regret having made his name synonymous with the improvements about to unfold.

March 23, 2010 at 3:04 am
(10) Steve in Philly says:

Mr. Ballard, you are incorrect that SS has a surplus. It just went into the red in the last few days http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jWbISwIapd30hnID5R3gGD7VFZ3QD9EEMU601

And your criticism of Medicare is ridiculous in light of your apparent support of “Obamacare”. If you think that someone the new health care programs are going to be safe from the waste and fraud generated under the Medicare/Medicaid programs, you are living in a dreamland.

March 23, 2010 at 8:27 am
(11) John Ballard says:

Thanks for the update. I stand corrected.
Perhaps this is the Congress that will remove or raise the cap on Social Security “contributions,” but I doubt it.

And you’re correct about my living in a dreamland. I’ve waited most of my adult life to see universal health care in America and it’s finally here. The form is crippled, corporate interests still outstrip public interests, and big money still has many elected officials more committed to the next campaign than the best interests of their constituents. But this legislation is a baby step in the right direction.

A public option would have been an economical alternative for those at the edge of medical needs, either because of affordability or good health, both of which make people eschew insurance. But the insurance industry, in a naked lust for new customers, was successful in making certain no public option was allowed. They paid a small price in return, though, with the end of rescission, lifetime caps, gender discrimination and pre-existing conditions.

Allowing healthy young adults still in school to remain on their parents’ policy to age 26 was a nice touch, don’t you think? If I were an insurance executive looking for a cheap PR bone to toss into the crowd I could think of nothing less expensive than that. The returns on that move were many times better than any Super Bowl commercial.

I despise the idea of selling medical care for profit. Can you tell?

But there are two serious ideas that have muddied this debate from the start and continue to do so.

1. Medical care is furnished by medical professionals, not insurance providers.

2. Professional compensation is not the same as business profits.

Accordingly, medical professionals from top to bottom should be compensated exceptionally well according to market conditions. This means that from the highest paid specialists (surgeons, consultants, hospital administrators, etc.) all the way down to housekeepers, landscapers and food service workers, should be paid at the top tiers of their respective wage scales.

But insurance companies are not the source of medical care. Their mission is to manage the costs, not drive them up. Accordingly, in the same way that we need architects, lawyers and cooks to run a good system, we also need insurance companies to help manage the expenses and spread the risk of expensive medical care. It is for that reason that one of the provisions of this legislation is that 85% of premiums is earmarked (don’t you love that word?) for medical expenses, and fifteen cents on the dollar is all that is allowed for administration, marketing, bonuses, conventions, and whatever else for-profit companies choose to do with their money.

I worked five years in a health care system, having spend three decades in the real private sector trying to squeeze a nickel or two out of every revenue dollar. I was shocked at the level of waste I saw, from human resources to carpeting and everything in between. Even at the administrative level it was everyday policy to “write off” millions in noncollectable costs rather than lean on revenue sources to make collections. As far as I can tell there were three main revenue streams: insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Amounts from co-pays and private pay are trivial in comparison.

I could go on but I have to go to work. Meantime the only “dreamland” that I know of is that which imagines that free enterprise has been good for health care. It may be good for elective procedures and those who want to keep themselves or their loved ones in PVS for eternity, but everyday people facing regular medical needs are like homeowners whose house is burning or being robbed. Health care is no different from fire or police protection.

March 25, 2010 at 1:38 am
(12) Steve says:

We will never prevail in the war of rhetoric against the obstructionists. But words will not be the measure that history uses to judge the value of this change. We must satisfy ourselves by knowing that Americans have finally made the humane choice, to acknowledge healthcare as a right for all citizens. Access to healthcare is no loger a privilege, guaranteed only to the wealthy. Healthcare is a birthright we choose, as a country, to make available to all. We are choosing to make America a better place, for all of our citizens. That is all I need to know.

March 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm
(13) Nobody special says:

Here’s a thought, Why don’t the middle class folks deny healthcare and see how far they get. Afterall, we take care of everybody high and low so why bother with it. As Mr. Kantor mentioned you can’t be denied the treatment, as the poor can’t be denied treatment so why have it. I get tired of rising cost of healthcare and my family having to do without while the poor get richer and the rich get richer. Everything to with insurance is a fraud and “Obama your a fraud”.

As far as the war goes it is costly. Is it necessary? Yes. But get in there and take care business and get out. My father says with the technology they had fifty years ago they would have gone in and found Bin Laden in about 2 weeks time and got out. With the technology they got now it ought to be a cinch. But war now is run by pencil pushing politicians and not by the 4 star generals who know how to take care of running a war.

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