Historic Health Care Reform

President Obama entered office promising to bring hope and change, and he has started to deliver. Congress has finally, after an intense and ugly legislative battle that highlighted the Republican Party’s resolve to do as little as possible for underprivileged, working-class Americans, and the enormous power of special interests in Washington D.C., passed the bill that will bring health care to over 30 million Americans who lack access to medical insurance. The cost of bringing health care to 30 million Americans over then next 10 years is about $950 billion, far less than the cost of the unnecessary war in Iraq, and marginally more than President Bush’s bailout for the rich bankers on Wall Street.

As President Obama pointed out, this bill will not alleviate all the problems that undermine our national health care system, but it is indeed a decisive step forward towards transforming America and rededicating its government to improving the life of Americans. For eight years when the Bush administration was in-charge, all we did was wage wars and bomb nations as the country grew bigger, poorer, more in debt and weaker in infrastructure.

Something this big, that affects so many – 30 million Americans – did not happen in the last 45 years. To find a comparable historic moment we have to go back to the Social Security reform in 1965 – brought about by another set of a Democratic Congress and President — which through Medicare and Medicaid provides health insurance to over 85 million Americans (nearly one out of three Americans) for less than 8 percent of the GDP.

Like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the health care reform bill of 2010, Medicare and Medicaid too were vigorously opposed by the Republican Party. But today, except for some Republican legislators who keep trying to kill Medicare and Medicaid, most people recognize how vital this program is to Americans. Eventually in 20-30 years Republicans too will recognize how vital President Obama’s health care bill is for America.

The passage of the health care bill will have profound impact on many aspects of American life. Besides helping those who cannot afford health care now and those who suffer from pre-existing conditions, the bill will also alter the balance of power between special interests and national interests. For a change national interest has gained precedence over special interests. I think in this time when the economy is weak, and the country has lost a lot of wealth in stock and real estate markets, when job growth remains elusive, it is specially good that national interest has prevailed.

Another major impact of the health care bill will be towards poverty reduction. High health care costs have not only prevented many millions from having the necessary procedures that will make them healthy and more productive, but it has also contributed to a higher level of national anxiety that undermines optimism about the American dream. Even for those who have health insurance but also have a serious problem like a heart condition, the fear of losing a job and then being victimized by insurance agencies for having a pre-existing condition has prevented them from pursuing dreams and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Ironically, both President Obama and the Democratic Party may pay a political price at the polls in November of this year for this. The actual benefits of this legislation will be realized only four years from now. But regardless of whether the Democratic Party cashes in on this major reform initiative or not, this is good for them. It reminds them that they can do things in Washington that approach a political philosophers idea of the public good.

It will also remind those in the public service that short-term political sacrifices are worth making in pursuit of long-term visions. Health care reform was a cherished idea of the Democratic Party and today it has been realized. Congratulations, to President Obama for steadfastly fighting for this vision and to the Democrats for finally standing up and being counted on behalf of something meaningful.

President Obama, whether on the subject of Middle East peace or on health care reform, is steadfastly defending America’s national interest against special interests. Republicans like to talk about America first, while in reality serving special interests, like the recent Republican dominated Supreme Courts decision to repeal campaign finance limits on special interests, but President Obama is indeed pursuing an America first policy.

He has indeed proven to be a Baraka (blessing) for America.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (www.ijtihad.org)..