Health care reform in this country has been a long time coming. In my opinion, far too long. For too long the healthcare needs of the American people took a back seat to Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and the Big Healthcare Lobby. For too long, the special healthcare interests have called the tune and the American people have paid the piper an ever higher price.
The results were as predictable as they were unacceptable. Insurance premiums (for those who could afford coverage at all) have been on an unsustainable upward spiral. Insurance companies have heartlessly denied coverage to the sick and callously cherry picked the healthy to bolster their bottom lines. More than 47 million Americans, including 822,700 right here in Louisiana, are living their lives one illness away from diaster.
It angers me that right here in America and in New Orleans there are too many conversations over the kitchen table where decent, hard working people are trying to decide between paying for their prescription drugs or putting food on the table. Our seniors and children are sicker than ever. Infant mortality rates are approaching the levels of a third world country. And contrary to what the Republican Party tells us, going to the emergency room is not a national healthcare plan. These sad facts have sometimes led me to wonder if this is America or Somalia.
I was heartened this past week to see that the Congress is finally showing the backbone necessary to deal with the healthcare crisis. I applaud President Obama and leaders in the House of Representatives for their bold leadership in moving this issue from the background to the bright foreground.
As the debate over national healthcare shifts to the Senate, it is abundantly clear that the healthcare issue is larger and more vital than just the health of the American public. Society's willingness to finally face this complex challenge head on speaks volumes about not only the positive role government can play in people's lives but also about the courage of a nation.
It is finally dawning on us all that fair, affordable, universal health care goes beyond healing the sick. At its heart, healthcare is an issue of basic of human rights. Basic healthcare is the foundation stone upon which a strong, vibrant, and compassionate society is built. It is a society that views the health of its citizens as central to our most deeply held beliefs of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Some may ask "Why the rush on healthcare?" We rush for the single mother in St. Bernard's Parrish desperately seeking chemotherapy for her child sick with leukemia. We rush for the 50 year old dock worker with diabetes who has been denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. We rush for the accident victim whose insurance just decides one day to drop them and stop paying their benefits. We rush to get healthcare done because when all is said and done, there are lives at stake.
Is the legislation that just came out of the House of Representatives perfect? No, it is not. The inclusion of the Stupack-Pitts amendment, which was added at the eleventh hour to gain passage of the House bill, is disturbing. This amendment would be a blow to a woman's right to choose and would mark a significant step backwards on the hard-fought abortion rights victories of the past three and a half decades. The President and many members of both the House and the Senate have said they will oppose this amendment if it appears in the final version of the healthcare bill. I believe that is the right thing to do.
That said, I urge the President and the Congress to work to get healthcare passed and passed soon. As President Kennedy once said: "We choose to do this work not because it is easy. We choose to do it because it is hard." At that time, Kennedy was talking about sending a man to the moon. I truly believe that we must harness that same spirit to solve our health care crisis once and for all. We can and must seize this historic opportunity to do what is right for so many millions of our fellow citizens. Yes, it is hard. If it was easy, healthcare reform would have been done a long time ago.
The time for waiting is over. The time for talk has passed. The time for bold leadership is upon us. Mr. President, Members of Congress, the eyes of a nation are upon you. It's time to stand up and do the right thing for our families, for our communities, and for our country.