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John Nichols & Terry O'Neill on Health Care Reform
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March 26, 2010

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is now law — but the battle over health care reform is far from over. Already at least 14 state attorneys general have filed lawsuits in state courts charging that the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional. The Republican Party has vowed to make health care reform the central issue in their bid to gain Democratic seats in the mid-term elections. Stalwart advocates of a single-payer system are also unhappy with the outcome — calling the bill "a false promise of reform" and "wimpy."

John Nichols of THE NATION and Terry O'Neill of the National Organization of Women (NOW), have looked over the final legislation and made their assessments. Nichols suggests that while the act is deeply flawed, it has moved the national conversation to a new, more positive, place. No longer is there a question about whether to reform health care, but how to reform it — and it is very difficult, notes Nichols, to move backward along that path:
For 100 years...we tried to take this vacant site and dig a hole, put a foundation, and start some construction. That's what's happened. The fact of the matter is it's best to understand the health care legislation that was passed on Sunday as the beginning of a construction project. And that's why some people fought so hard against it, because they understood. Once you begin that project, it is very unlikely that we're going to fill the hole in, tear down all the construction.
Terry O'Neill is not as sanguine: "My organization looked at the entire bill at the end of the day when it was passed. And we concluded that on balance, despite the good things that are in the bill, the bill actually is bad for women." As part of a deal to win pro-life Democratic votes, President Obama signed an Executive Order which "requires adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services." According to O'Neill and other pro-choice groups, it is, in fact, an extension of the Hyde Amendment (which originally only applied to Medicaid funds) and "A Tragic Setback for Women's Rights."

But the blanket restriction on use the federal funds for abortion services is not the only problem O'Neill sees with the bill. She notes that it also does not ameliorate gender and age bias in insurance coverage and delivers 32 million new customers to the insurance industry.

See what former JOURNAL guests and others have to say about the reform below. And then use the tools below to see how the bill affects you.

"As much as we would like to join the celebration of the House's passage of the health bill last night, in good conscience we cannot. We take no comfort in seeing aspirin dispensed for the treatment of cancer."
"The legislation fails to deliver on the promise of a single standard of excellence in care for all and instead makes piecemeal adjustments to the current privatized, for-profit healthcare behemoth."
"The most troubling aspect of this bill is that it is so blatantly unconstitutional and contrary to the ideals of liberty. Nowhere in the Constitution is there anything approaching authority for the Federal government to do any of this. The founders would have been horrified at the idea of government forcing citizens to become consumers of a particular product from certain government approved companies."
"The significance of Obama’s health legislation is more political than substantive. For the first time since Ronald Reagan told America government is the problem, Obama’s health bill reasserts that government can provide a major solution. In political terms, that’s a very big deal."
"I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation. If my vote is to be counted, let it now count for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform. I have taken a detour through supporting this bill, but I know the destination I will continue to lead, for as long as it takes, whatever it takes to an America where health care will be firmly established as a civil right."
John Nichols

Photo by Robin Holland John Nichols, author and political journalist has been writing the "Online Beat" for THE NATION magazine since 1999. Nichols also serves as Washington correspondent for THE NATION, as well as the associate editor of the CAPITAL TIMES, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin and a contributing writer for THE PROGRESSIVE and IN THESE TIMES.

Along with fellow author Robert McChesney, Nichols co-founded the media-reform group Free Press. Nichols has also authored several books, including JEWS FOR BUCHANAN, which analyzed the recount vote of 2000, and DICK: THE MAN WHO IS PRESIDENT, his best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney. Nichols most recent book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT, argues that impeachment is an essential instrument of America's democratic system.

Terry O'Neill

Terry O'Neill, a feminist attorney, professor and activist for social justice, was elected president of NOW in June 2009. She is also president of the NOW Foundation and chair of the NOW Political Action Committees, and serves as the principal spokesperson for all three entities.

A former law professor, O'Neill taught at Tulane in New Orleans and at the University of California at Davis, where her courses included feminist legal theory and international women's rights law, in addition to corporate law and legal ethics. She has testified before committees in the Maryland House of Delegates and has written federal amicus briefs on abortion rights for Louisiana NOW, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

O'Neill worked on such historic campaigns as Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the campaign leading to the election of Louisiana's first woman U.S. senator, Mary Landrieu.

>Read NOW's Call for Leadership from President Obama on Key Women's Rights Issues

Guest photos by Robin Holland.
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Single-payer advocate Marcia Angell on why she thinks the debate over reform needs a fresh look at the economics and delivery of the care promised in the bill. (March 5, 2010)

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Explore highlights on the debate over health care reform and get tools to track industry lobbying and campaign dollars.

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A Bill Moyers essay. (March 5, 2010)

References and Reading:
"Now That Obama's Signed It, Let's Reform the Reform" John Nichols, THE NATION.

"Health Care Reform Victory Comes with Tragic Setback for Women's Rights," Statement of NOW President Terry O'Neill

"In Health Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality," David Leonhardt, THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 23, 2010.

Senator Bernie Sanders Health Care Efforts Senator Sanders introduced the Senate's only single-payer health insurance proposal (since withdrawn). His web site lists his continued efforts on behalf of health care reform.

Washington Lobbying Giants Cash in on Health Reform Debate
The Center for Public Integrity totals up the amount spent on lobbying over the health care issue and finds a record amount spent. "About 1,750 businesses and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists, total — eight for each member of Congress — and spent at least $1.2 billion to influence health care bills and other issues, according to a Center analysis of disclosure documents."

Senator Bernie Sanders Health Care Efforts
Senator Sanders introduced the Senate's only single-payer health insurance proposal (since withdrawn). His web site lists his continued efforts on behalf of health care reform.

Comprehensive Resources

The Kaiser Family Foundation
The Foundation's interactive side-by-side health reform comparison tool now reflects the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law Tuesday and the reconciliation changes that passed the House and are being considered in the Senate this week. The online tool allows users to quickly compare the law with the reconciliation changes, as well as with other reform proposals put forward over the past year. The Foundation's interactive calculator also reflects the provisions of the new law. Health Care Health Care Policy News

The Congressional Budget Office
This listing includes all of CBO's publications on health. A special collection on health also includes background information, cost estimates, and presentation.

PBS Newshour: Health Reform

The JOURNAL on Health Reform

Funding for Abortion

Executive Order -- Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's Consistency with Longstanding Restrictions on the Use of Federal Funds for Abortion,

Americans United for Life

National Right to Life

The National Organization of Women (NOW) Planned Parenthood

Kaiser Family Foundation: Women's Health
Also This Week:
Eighteen months after the economic meltdown, why has Washington been unable rein in Wall Street with serious regulation? Bill Moyers speaks with financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson for a candid look at the obstacles facing substantive reform and what Congress' proposed legislation would — and wouldn't — accomplish.

Watch the JOURNAL's complete coverage of the financial crisis.

Bill Moyers takes a closer look at the newly signed health bill and explores the future of health care reform with THE NATION's John Nichols and National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill.

Watch the JOURNAL's complete coverage of health care reform in our video collection.

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