When the House GOP leadership scheduled a vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I reflected upon a 1966 speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Medical Committee for Human Rights. In that speech, he expressed his concerns about the failings of our healthcare system, stating that, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane."
Those words were brought home to me in the middle of the healthcare debate last year when a constituent from Florence, S.C., told me that she had just been informed by her insurance carrier that because of her 8-year-old daughter's cancer treatments, her family had reached their lifetime benefits limit. What could be more inhumane than repealing this law and telling that mother the life-saving treatments for her daughter must end?
What could be more shocking than the injustice suffered by the middle-aged woman who called into a radio program to share with me that although she had promptly paid premiums her entire adult life, she was dropped by her insurer when she contracted breast cancer? How can we repeal the remedy to this injustice? [See photos of the healthcare debate.]
How can we return to discriminating against young adults, like the uninsured medical student who spoke out at one of my town hall meetings, who is now able to remain in school and on her family's health insurance policy until her 26th birthday? Before this law passed, an engineer I met in St. Louis who has diabetes had to turn down her dream job because the healthcare provider at the new company would not cover her pre-existing condition. Because of this law, workers are now free to make decisions to advance their careers regardless of their health. [See a slide show of 10 things that are and are not in the healthcare law.]
Furthermore, the Affordable Care Act will reduce our nation's burgeoning deficit. By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office says, repealing this law will increase our deficit by $230 billion in the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the second decade.
My Republican colleagues are calling this landmark legislation a "job killer." Yet, since passage of the law, 1.1 million private sector jobs have been created—and one fifth of those new jobs have been in the healthcare industry.
I have called it the Civil Rights Act of the 21st Century because it puts patients in control of their healthcare. It provides significant cost savings and frees 129 million Americans under the age of 65 from discrimination based on their pre-existing conditions. Repealing the law would be a travesty and would set our country back at a challenging time. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on healthcare.]
In his timeless letter from the Birmingham City Jail, Dr. King, whose life and legacy we recently celebrated, exhorted that the "time is always ripe to do right." After nearly a century of debate, President Obama felt the time was ripe, and making quality affordable healthcare available to all Americans was the right thing to do.
Do I believe that changes should not be made? Absolutely not. When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, it did not cover public employees. When the 1965 Voting Rights Act became law, it did not cover congressional and legislative redistricting. The Fair Housing Act wasn't perfect when passed. Bipartisan changes were made to improve all of these measures.
I sincerely hope that as we move forward, we can find the ways and means to develop bipartisan modifications to healthcare reform that increase efficiency and effectiveness, decrease costs and duplication, and maintain the fundamental freedoms granted under the landmark law.