President Obama has created a nation with insurance for all. In fact, after the House vote, Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), the highest-ranking African American in Congress, said he considered “this to be the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century”—an array of federal policies that would dramatically restructure health care delivery for generations to come. The ground-breaking legislation requires most American citizens and legal residents to purchase health insurance as well as covers an additional 32 million people through Medicaid, subsidies to families and tax credits to small businesses. Among other initiatives, the package also creates a health care exchange in which uninsured individuals and small businesses can comparison shop for insurance policies; decreases out-of-pocket prescription costs for seniors on Medicare; and prohibits insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Now millions of Americans do not have to watch as loved ones suffer from or succumb to catastrophic illnesses because they can’t afford insurance or their carriers discontinued their policies.
As President Obama has often asserted, however, change does not come easy. To gain passage of his 10-year, $940 billion plan, he faced relentless opposition, scurrilous accusations and rancorous debate. Over the past 13 months, he had to contend with everything from heated summer protests from Tea Party members that decried “ObamaCare” as a representative form of socialism to jousting with recalcitrant Republicans at chilly summit meetings. As recently as his January 27th State of the Union address, political pundits, naysayers and even members of his own party believed his health care reform bill would be D.O.A. when it arrived for a vote in Congress. Despite the odds, he persevered, taking his message to town halls, continuing to reach across the aisle and inspiring thousands to knock on doors and man phone banks.
To achieve what was seemingly impossible, he knew throwing in the towel was not an option. He best expressed his mission in remarks after the House vote: “For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat—it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.”
As a member of the civil rights generation, I beamed with pride as I saw the collection of yea votes in the Obama column and heard the chants “Yes We Can! Yes We Can!” in the House Chamber. As expected, he did not receive one Republican vote. President Obama's Republican foes will seek to undermine progress. After the second House vote of 220-211 to approve a package of changes of the bill, the Republicans were unsuccessful in its attempts to kill the bill through a motion that would have sent it back to committee. Despite beating the odds, the president will also continue to face fresh battles as the GOP seeks to repeal the bill through lawsuits and other measures as well as use health care reform as an issue to gain Congressional seats in the House and Senate during the midterm elections.
The passage of health care reform legislation was a momentous occasion not only because I want our nation’s chief executive to succeed and make this nation better and more bountiful. It represented a triumphant moment for one of “the children of the dream”—the realization that the generation we spawned and mentored has, indeed, become transformative leaders who perform at the highest levels. Barack Obama has been superb is his role as the nation's commander-in-chief. Arriving to office with greater challenges than any president since FDR, he has saved our nation from financial ruin and passed the biggest economic stimulus bill ever, saving and creating more than 2 million jobs in the process. Now, he has passed landmark healthcare legislation and I am fully confident he will tackle the issues of unemployment and job creation with the same political pragmatism and executive skill. That’s change I believe in.
Earl G. Graves Sr. is the Chairman and Publisher of Black Enterprise magazine.