This afternoon I ventured over to Elliott Bay Book Company’s brand new Capitol Hill location. Which turns out to be so very much like the old location. The same lovely stained glass above the entrance, the same chunky bookcases, and the good Rick Simonson puttering about the front of the house. They’ve really recaptured that wonderful feeling of the Pioneer Square store. However. This place also has higher ceilings, stunning windows, and lots of elbow room around the tables. Not to mention more skinny jeans, funky hair, starving writers, men holding hands. Sometimes newer really is better. Me, I’m just glad to see one of the best bookstores on the planet surviving these uneasy times.
Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping health care bill that will bring health insurance to more than 30 million people who presently go without. The legislation will also protect those with insurance from being denied coverage because they are — wait for it — sick. Think that’s too awful to be true? Read about this young Baltimore family.
I admit I wasn’t confident this day would ever come. But here we are, and Republicans are already threatening to use the bill as a weapon in the upcoming midterm elections. We’ll see.
I’m happy to report that health care reform looks much less dead than it did two months ago. At this very moment, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is wrestling up support for this weekend’s big vote — that’s right, a vote on the Senate health care bill that passed back in December. Today comes the welcome news that the bill will (somehow) reduce the deficit, or so says the Congressional Budget Office.
These reforms won’t fix everything wrong with health care. Not by a long stretch. But it will bring health insurance to millions of people who didn’t have it before. At the risk of beating a dead horse, we need that. Desperately.
Last week I visited with a local book club, and one of the members was a nurse practitioner working in the trenches herself. She’s at a nearby community health center, a joint that will take care of anybody who walks in the door, where the charge is $15 for those with the lowest income. It’s a critical piece of the local safety net.
Anyway, she told us that finances are forcing her patients to lapse on their medication on a regular basis, and mental illness has gotten out of control in so many. And then there is the occasional patient who becomes insured and asks whether they’re still allowed to see her for medical care.
The nurse practitioner smiled but shook her head. Somewhere along the way we came to believe that those with health insurance don’t get health care at the same places as those without. Like all community health centers, this one is desperate for even the tiniest bits of income, so she says “yes please,” and all but begs her insured patients to keep coming back.
Community health centers provide a tremendous amount of primary medical care and doing so keep people out of Emergency Rooms. The reward? These unsung folks work incredibly hard and make less money than pretty much any other outfit in town. It’s yet another striking example of how sorely misaligned incentives are under our current system.
Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts immediately and dramatically reshaped the political landscape in Washington D.C, and it’s no longer clear whether the health care bill, which proposes to insure thirty million more Americans, will survive.
Rumors of the demise of health care reform caused insurance company stocks to rise on Wednesday. But weirdly, this year’s push for universal coverage might have been the best long-term growth opportunity for insurance companies. The New York Times reports that insurance companies are steadily losing customers as employers lay off workers and scale back or do away with health insurance coverage altogether. Universal coverage would have brought a significant infusion of new business.
Of course, that’s only true sans public option.
The future of the health care bill may hang on today’s special election in Massachusetts, to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat. Should Republican Scott Brown defeat Democrat Martha Coakley, Democrats would lose their filibuster-proof 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. A Republican win may discourage other Democrats in tight re-election races from voting for health care reform. Eyes are peeled.
“History will record that the greatest tragedy of our period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.