When President Barack Obama signs a historic — albeit controversial — health care reform bill, he will complete a year-long legislative process and achieve the health care coverage expansion that has eluded many past presidents.
The House of Representatives passed the health care reform legislation on Sunday night by a 219-212 vote. Democrats supported the bill 219-34, while all 178 Republicans voted against it, following the Senate’s 60-39 party-line vote on Christmas Eve.
The House also passed a second bill containing a series of modifications to the Senate’s bill on a 220-211 vote. Senate Democrats will now attempt to pass the bill through the reconciliation process, which requires only a majority vote and cannot be filibustered.
Several professors who have watched the process carefully said they were pleased by the turn of events.
“I was very proud of our elected officials for achieving this against pretty long odds,” said Stephen Somers, a visiting professor at the Wilson School who is also the president of the Center for Health Care Strategies, which provides research for safety-net health care agencies.
“The two really important things, in my opinion, were the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion,” he said, explaining that Medicaid expansion will create a “universal floor” of coverage for the poor and that further insurance reforms will ensure coverage for millions more.
James Verdier, who is also a visiting professor at the Wilson School and a former Indiana state Medicaid director, agreed with Somers, saying he was “impressed that they were actually able to pull it off when it seemed to be dead. Phoenix rose from the ashes.”
Verdier said that much work remains. “Now the really hard work begins, the really hard political work of explaining to the public generally and demonstrating the benefits of health care reform,” he said. “From the perspective of the federal government and state governments, the really, really hard work of implementing this reform is just beginning.”
This semester, Somers and Verdier are co-teaching a Wilson School task force on health care reform, WWS 402c: Health Care Reform: Organizing, Financing, and Delivering Care for Low-Income Americans.
Several professors have been active commentators on health care reform, particularly in the pages of The New York Times.
Since Obama’s election, Wilson School professor and Times columnist Paul Krugman has written more than 30 columns specifically referring to health care reform. Though he was a staunch advocate of implementing a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers — a provision that was not included in the final bill — he has nonetheless called the bill a major success, both from a policy perspective and for the political future of Obama and congressional Democrats.
Wilson School professor Paul Starr, who was the senior advisor for President Clinton’s proposed health reform plan, has also written several op-ed columns in the Times advocating policy and political advice on the health care reform effort, while Wilson School professor and healthcare economist Uwe Reinhardt has written dozens of posts on the topic on his blog on the Times website.
Reinhardt, along with economics professors Alan Blinder ’67 and Angus Deaton, was among 20 economists to sign a November letter to Obama emphasizing the economic importance of passing health care reform.
While these professors lobbied for health care reform, the student advocacy group, Princetonians for Healthcare Reform, joined the debate on campus.
Omoshalewa Bamkole ’11, the organization’s president, said in an e-mail on behalf of the group that the bill is a positive starting point.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I wouldn’t expect all our health care problems to be solved in one either,” she said.
Several officers of the Princeton Pre-Medical Society said that they were personally pleased with the bill, though unsure of the exact ramifications for medical professionals.
“I think the bill is a good start, but there is still a lot to be done, and ... it does represent substantial progress,” said Alana D’Alfonso ’11, an officer of the group.
She added that the bill “ is an incredible achievement, because it’s something that many past presidents have tried to pass through Congress.”
Michael Cheng ’11, a fellow officer in the Pre-Med Society, said that he is cautiously optimistic about the bill. While he said he is pleased by the coverage expansion, he is wary of the “unintended consequences” of the bill.
“It will probably be a lot harder to get doctors’ visits in the middle-term future, just because of the dramatic increase in the number of patients,” he said. Cheng also said that the bill will not adequately address rising health care costs.
D’Alfonso and Cheng both noted that they were not speaking as representatives of the Pre-Med Society.
Though she was unsure what impact health care reform would have on her future career, D’Alfonso said that health professionals should support the bill out of a “desire to give care,” explaining that, “if this will allow doctors to provide care to more people, that’s something to be excited about.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2010/03/23/25576/