Friday, March 19, 2010

Remembrances on the near-eve of a historic vote

As we approach the final passage of the historic health care reform act and it being signed into law, I share my memories of the last time we tried this and failed.  My story isn't about the history of what happened back in the early Clinton administration when reform failed, this is more personal and perhaps more enlightening about what happened back then.

It was 1993, a year after I had transferred my job and moved my family to Oregon.   My late wife and I were following the news about the efforts to pass universal health care with great excitement and hope - not so much for ourselves as we had health coverage through my job but for members of both of our families who didn't.  We cheered the speeches for it on TV and booed those against it.  Having moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to a small town in eastern Oregon, that was about all we could do - there wasn't much opportunity for liberal activism in a conservative town who's main claim to fame was a four day rodeo. The activist part was my thing - my wife agreed with me and often went further left than me when it came to politics but going to rallies, etc. was something she didn't do but tolerated her husband doing.

One day, we got word that President Clinton's campaign for universal health care was taking buses and going on the road - and that one of the stops was going to be the small town we'd just moved to.  The tiny progressive community there was very excited and there were rumors that First Lady Hillary Clinton was on the bus.  I had the day off when the bus caravan was supposed to arrive so I decided to attend, hoping I'd return home with tales of meeting and shaking hands with Hillary Clinton.

The place the bus tour was going to use was the town National Guard armory, and everything was set and prepared for the visit.  There were chairs set before a podium for a rally, people were milling about waiting - there was even a roped-off area to the side for any protestors who might show up as well.  I chatted with some of the people there and were told stories of how one mother-to-be was worried that she'd have to give birth with no health insurance and her worries about the health of her soon-to-arrive child.  Others told me of injuries and illnesses that went untreated because they and their families just didn't have the money for a doctor.  They all spoke of how great it will be when such worries are a thing of the past and I vigorously nodded my agreement.

The hour for the buses came....and went.  Some started worrying that something had happened on purpose to the buses enroute and possibly to the buses' inhabitants.  I sort of sidled up to the advance people for the event talking on their cell phones to see if I could get some news on what happened by listening in to their side of the phone conversation.  They beat me to spreading the word - they announced to the crowd that the buses had mechanical problems and would be delayed an hour or so.

The crowd was mainly made up of people who had driven miles from rural areas and even smaller towns to be there and they groaned a bit but decided to stay on.  One hour became two, two became three and as time wore on the crowd got smaller and smaller.  In the fourth hour the buses finally arrived but the crowd was so small by then that holding the rally in the armory would have made it look like no one had ever shown up.  So, to make us all look like a bigger crowd than we were for the cameras, the rally was jammed into the lobby of the armory so we all looked like there were so many of us that we were jammed together.  The rally itself was only about 15 minutes long, with no stories from people who needed universal health care and no First Lady either.

We all know the end of that story - the Clinton universal health care plan never made it out of Congress and was never to be taken up again for the rest of President Clinton's two terms in office or George W. Bush's two terms.

Now here we are, years later, with a new Democratic President who has gotten the country to the point that we are on the very edge of passing into law the first major reform of health care in America since Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act.  Now granted, what's about to be passed is not as comprehensive and far reaching as what Clinton tried to enact, he who once waved a plastic mock-up health care card during a State of the Union address promising that soon all you'd need was what he was holding to see and be treated by a doctor.  No, what's about to be passed could fairly be called more regulation of health insurance than health care reform.

However, for a compromised bill, it ain't bad either.  The people who told pollsters that they opposed it will like it just fine once it's up and running.  It's also a fine foundation to add to on the way to getting for us what most of the industrialized world already has - a single payer, truly universal health care coverage.

To Congress and the President:  The vote is scheduled right now for Sunday afternoon.  We've waited long enough and too many have died who could have been saved if they'd had the health insurance they needed to see a doctor when it was first needed. 

No more process, no more games, no more delays.  Don't let us down again.  Pass the damn bill.

No comments: