Chicagoans react to health care passage

March 23, 2010 4:34:13 AM PDT
Chicagoans have mixed responses after Congress passed the near-universal health care bill and sent it on to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The benefits and drawbacks of health care reform is a debate that will play out long into the future. But Diane Powell has already decided that it's a good thing. Powell is on the board of Roseland Community Hospital which she says spends $20 million a year taking care of people who are uninsured. Powell says the reforms approved by the House Sunday night mean more of their patients can afford better health care and the hospital can save money.

"We're hoping that this bill is going to mean that we're going to have more people to come with health care coverage, and more than that, more people will be coming with preventive coverage and not preventing it at a time when they're near death," said Powell.

"Everyone should have the right to health care regardless of income level, your ethnicity, said Dominique Alexander.

Alexander, 25, has been uninsured since she was a teenager when she was covered by her parent's plan. She was joined by a couple dozen residents at the library in Robbins with people who support reform.

"With unemployment teetering around 10 percent, a lot of people don't know that the people who lose their jobs lose their health care insurance," said Edward Leonard.

The upcoming changes to health care have many other people skeptical of the plan, concerned that it would create a financial burden for the country.

"I do have health insurance now. I do like the health insurance that I have. For me, I don't know how this is going to benefit me, but at the same time, it sounds like it is going to be a lot more expensive for America," said Greg McDanel.

"It is going to cost a lot of money. I don't know if we have money to spend right now. I think it's a great concept. I think there's a way to do it. I don't know if we have the money to do it right now," said Janna Hahn.

In south suburban Dolton, some people were learning Monday how health care reform will effect them. A town hall meeting was held in which officials from health care clinics and south suburban hospitals along with politicians talked to patients about the new bill.

"The main parts of this bill take effect immediately. Finally, insurance companies won't be able to deny children for a pre-existing condition. Children who have been denied because they already had an illness would be eligible for a high-risk pool. Businesses who offer health care to their employees receive a 33% tax credit immediately. People are going to start seeing effects very quickly and something I think the American people can be proud of under this president's leadership," said Ben Lenet, aide to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

There was no shortage of opinions on the legislation from people in the Loop as they went to work.

"Other people are not insured because insurance is too expensive. If it makes insurance more affordable, I think it is a good idea, very good idea," said Howard Bramham.

"At one point I was uninsured and had to get some medical treatment, and I had to struggle. I think it will benefit some people," said Emma Ron.

Opinions were mixed at Union Station Monday, but many are cautiously optimistic. Some said they are disappointed, one man saying this is a sad day in America. But other people are happy. One woman says her grandmother can better afford prescriptions.

Throughout Illinois, feelings run strong on both sides of the issue. Some small-business owners in Chicago spoke out in support of the bill.

"I have never been able to afford health care for my employees," said Dan Sherry.

Opponents, including local Tea Party members, say it is too much government interference.

"It is unconstitutional. You can't make someone buy something," said Ralph Sprovier, Illinois Tea Party Patriots.

No Republicans supported the bill. State party leader Pat Brady says the opposition is not about politics. It is about a bad bill.

"And Republicans recognize we need reform and are not against the president. It is just the huge, massive spending bill and the takeover of health care. That's what the Republicans oppose," said Brady.

But the American Medical Association, based in Chicago, says despite some shortcomings, the bill will benefit patients greatly.

"This is not perfect legislation, but there are tens of millions of Americans who will have insurance that don't have it now, and therefore are at less risk of dying sooner," said AMA President-elect Dr. Cecil Wilson.

"If you can help people with preexisting conditions, why not?" said Brendan Hardy, bill supporter.

ABC7 talked to many people who just did not understand the bill because they say it is too complicated. But one feature that seems to be very popular is the banning of discrimination against preexisting conditions.

NU prof discusses bill's implications

President Barack Obama's health care reform victory after Sunday night's vote only means the hardest work is yet to come. The Democrat-controlled Congress approved health care overhaul legislation 219-212.

Currently, there are two separate bills. The House passed one bill Sunday night to overhaul, but there is also a reconciliation bill that must go through the Senate because the Senate must now get 51 votes to approve the changes the House made to its original bill. But essentially, the significant voting is done, and Obama was expected to sign the first bill Monday or Tuesday.

"This is a significant piece of legislation. There are no reasons why anything will be stopped at this point. The bill is called America's Affordable Health Care Choice Act. It promises a lot," said Northwestern University Professor Clark Caywood.

Caywood said the legislation's passage is crucial to Obama's presidency.

"He had kind of a rough start for the first year. He looked a little bit amateurish. He didn't look like an amateur yesterday, and he didn't quite have the moxie that LBJ had in getting bills through the Senate. Medicare, for example, at a vote of 75-25, with some people abstaining, not quite that power," Caywood said. "It was pretty close, but that suggests that the campaigns going forward, people have to look closely at their constituency and what they still believe about the bill."

The president said this is not a victory for any particular party but a victory for the American people. Caywood said the president was being generous to the GOP.

"The president could be more negative on Republicans not joining in on this particular bill, but there are a few Democrats, including Congressman [Dan] Lipinski in Illinois, who didn't vote for it as well," Caywood said. "He has to be careful of criticizing those who didn't vote for t it is a strategy on the part of Republicans. They have decided how they want to take the benefit of it or the hit on it."

Caywood said the health care vote will have yield repercussions in November midterm elections. But the bill's repercussions may not even be deciphered by then.

"The bill is so long and so complex. It is written at the 18th grade level, as opposed to the speeches, have been about the sixth grade level, so this is complicated, and really we will be digesting this bill for maybe a decade before we fully understand it, and that means that each of those members of Congress running will have to have a very clear explanation of what it means to their constituents," Caywood said.

The big question is does each and every one of them understand exactly what is in this bill?

"I don't think most of us understand it," Caywood said. "I think that's why [Rep. Paul] Ryan in Wisconsin was trying to take it in pieces or chunks. In our home state, we have the fish boil where you put everything in. I think the pot is boiling."

The supporters and detractors

There are major lobbying organizations that once opposed health care reform who are now supporters.

"Denials based on pre-existing conditions will be prohibited. Differences in premiums based on gender and disease state will no longer be there. It really is monumental. As I say, it's not perfec, but it is monumental, and patients will benefit greatly," said Dr. Wilson.

The AMA admits the health care reform bill is far from perfect, but the doctors organization says at least it is a start

Republicans see the legislation as start to the government takeover of health care.

"I think a lot of Republicans, including me, feel the government is not the most efficient way to do anything, and we don't like the fact that the government is now interfering on our decision on how we get medical treatment," said Brady.

But Democrats say insurance for those already covered will not change. To cover the 32 million uninsured, the legislation will eventually require most Americans to buy health care insurance. The government will provide subsidies for those who cannot afford it.

The bill will cost an estimated $940 billion over the next 10 years.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports, in the long run, the bill will actually cut the deficit.

"Nobody believes that the third-largest entitlement in the history of the United States is going to save money at the end of the day," Brady said.

While they differ on the legislation, both political parties agree that the huge bill will continue to be hotly debated during this coming election season, maybe even cost some elections.

"It is so enormous. It is so expensive. It covers so much that, right now, the only thing people can really get their hands around is the political side of it. So, today, politics trumps policy," said Paul Green, a political science professor with Roosevelt University.

Green says there are a handful of congressional races in the Chicago suburbs that may be won or lost by Sunday night's vote.

What the health reform bill means for Americans

When the bill is signed into law by President Obama, children will be able to remain on their parents' insurance until they turn 26, and no company can refuse to insure a child because he or she has a pre-existing condition.

Then, it will take another four years before all adults can get insurance without regard for pre-existing conditions. All uninsured Americans will have to have coverage or face a fine. The government will provide subsidies to those with low incomes to buy that insurance.