Now is the Time for Congressional Courage on Health-Care Reform

The people of Massachusetts already have near universal health care. Too many of the rest of us do not. The loss of the senate seat formerly held by Senator Edward Kennedy to a Republican who opposed the Senate health-care bill notwithstanding, the House of Representatives ought to vote for the Senate bill and send health-care reform to President Obama to sign. The country needs the moral clarity that universal health-care legislation will bring.

Let us not forget: the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have universal health care for its citizens. The U.S. ranks 37 among nations in health care because millions of people are without coverage. Tens of thousands of people die every year in the U.S. because they do not have health care. Moral clarity says health care is a human right, and the value of liberty and justice for all ought to mean the distributive justice of health care for all. Are we a nation that creates public policy on the maxim, "I have mine, you have yours to get"? Are we a nation that understands life is better for each of us when life is better for all of us?

The Senate bill is not perfect. Some of the deal-making that allowed the leadership to get the 60 votes necessary to pass it was truly malodorous. However, there are some good things in this bill. The patient's bill of rights that disallows exclusion for pre-existing conditions, recisions, and caps on coverage is good. It allows adult children to stay on their parents' insurance longer. It closes the Medicare doughnut hole on prescription drugs. The requirement that insurance companies only use a certain percent of premiums on administrative costs is good. The bill covers millions of people now uninsured, and it is deficit neutral. There is a provision for neighborhood health clinics that Vermont Senator Bernie Saunders put into the bill in exchange for his vote. (This is a deal that I like.) This will allow for experimentation in grass-roots wellness. The Republicans in the Senate did not cooperate with President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership on this issue. They did everything in their power to slow its progress and to defeat it. There is no reason to think this stance will change in an election year.

Now is not the time to read more into election results than we ought. And even if the election were a referendum on health-care reform, so what? This is a representative democracy. It is a republic because we expect our leaders to lead. We expect them to have the moral vision to lead us forward and to have an enthusiasm and a commitment to that vision which is so strong that we will see the vision too. We need our elected officials to demonstrate the virtues necessary to do what is right for the American people. We need them to demonstrate the virtues of responsibility, commitment, complexity, and love. Now is the time for courage.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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