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Health care reform passes

March 24, 2010 1:37:00 PM PDT
Maybe I'm getting less smart as I get older, but I'll be danged if I can figure out why Congressional Republicans were against the health care reform bill that passed late last night.

I can easily understand why most Democrats would be against it. The biggest reason: No public option. That gives health insurance companies virtually no competition, and a free rein to charge whatever they want. Pretty much like they do now, but with two exceptions.

The first is that insurers can't disqualify someone because of a pre-existing condition. That will cost them plenty, but it won't cost them nearly as much as they're going to make from exception number two: More than 30 million Americans are required to buy health insurance, often times with government assistance.

In short, it's an huge boon for the health insurance companies, which are already raking in billions in profits. And the real teeth in the cover-everyone part of this bill doesn't kick in for four years. Even then, if the insurance companies break the ban on pre-existing conditions, they'll be fined $100 a day, which is to say, dang-near nothing, compared to the cost of covering a pre-existing illness.

But Democrats were for the bill. It was the Republicans who were against the notion of health insurance companies turning even bigger profits than before. Why? Because President Obama wanted some kind of health care reform to pass, even if it was, to use the derogatory description of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, more like "kiddie care" than real health care reform.

They wanted the President to suffer a setback to his agenda, and since health care was the big elephant in the docket, they chose to dig in their heels on health care. It may turn out to be a huge mistake for a party that, up until a week or so ago, seemed poised to make real gains in this November's mid-term elections.

Of course, November is years away, politically speaking. And sooooo many things can happen.

Two seminole events helped cement the President's victory last night, as the House passed the Senate's version, with a few wrinkles still to be ironed out. The first was when Anthem/Blue Cross announced it would raise its rates up to 39% this year. This is the same company that already is making billions in profit per year, and it's gall to boost premiums lit the fire under the President after his campaign for reform had pretty much been ruled dead in the water.

The second was Dennis Kucinich's change-of-heart last week about his vote on the reform bill. Say what you will about the very liberal Congressman from Ohio ? and I know there are many many, many folks out there who think he's a flake - but he's a bellweather on these sort of things. And when he announced that the bill was too important to fail, that he would hold his nose and close his eyes and vote "yes" even though he despises some aspects of the bill - that was an important symbol for many Democrats who had been on the fence.

If the lefty can stomach this bill, then they could too.

Now the Republicans are on the warpath, still. They want the bill "repealed." But the hatred and vitriol this past weekend did not win them any friends. Spitting on Congressman John Lewis, a giant of the civil rights movement, and on Congressman Barney Frank, one of the first openly gay representatives. They also called Lewis and Frank horrible things.

It was not a pretty path getting here, and it seemed at all times not so much about improving health care and getting universal coverage, but more about politics. Dirty, partisan, politics-as-usual. No wonder most Americans dislike it all.

Neither side did itself proud in this process.

As for the requirement that Americans now purchase health insurance (15 million or so still won't be covered, by the way), we're required to buy car insurance if we drive, yes? We're required to live in some kind of abode and not on the street, yes? We're required to go to school, yes? We're required to do all sorts of things - things that don't mean the government has suddenly turned socialist, as opponents of the reform bill suggested.

As I said, an ugly process.

Oh, one more thing, as Michael Moore pointed out - Republicans, too, will benefit from this new bill. Here's his open letter to the GOP:

"To My Fellow Citizens, the Republicans:

"Thanks to last night's vote, that child of yours who has had asthma since birth will now be covered after suffering for her first nine years as an American child with a pre-existing condition.

"Thanks to last night's vote, that 23-year-old of yours who will be hit one day by a drunk driver and spend six months recovering in the hospital will now not go bankrupt because you will be able to keep him on your insurance policy.

"Thanks to last night's vote, after your cancer returns for the third time -- racking up another $200,000 in costs to keep you alive -- your insurance company will have to commit a criminal act if they even think of dropping you from their rolls."

We'll have reaction to the health care bill, and reaction, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, we're following a police shooting in the Bronx - a cop was shot and wounded, and a gun-wielding man was killed during a a wild shootout inside the Morrisania Air Rights houses. A home health aide reportedly called 9-1-1 saying a man was waving a gun at the aide, who was caring for the man's parents.

When the officer arrived, he was shot. One of the bullets was stopped by his bullet resistant vest.

Other officers with the wounded cop fired back on the gunman. They later found the man, dead in the apartment. It's unclear, at least for now, whether he was killed in the gunfire, or whether he killed himself.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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