A majority of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are now on the same page on health care reform, and President Obama is expected to sign the bill he’s been waiting for since taking office.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of health care reform by seven votes Sunday evening - 219-212 - meaning a Senate reconciliation vote is all that remains between health care reform and the president’s signature. The bill needed 216 votes to pass.
The topic has been a hot-button issue throughout the country, but even more so in North Carolina’s Eighth District where U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell broke ranks with the Democratic leadership to oppose the plan.
The move earned him support from some of the district’s more conservative voters, while raising the ire of many in the liberal base that helped him in his consecutive campaigns against former-U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes.
Fayetteville activist Nancy Shakur even signed up to face Kissell in the May primary, citing his opposition to the Democrats’ plan.
In a Monday statement, Kissell said he didn’t vote for the bill because of the nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts that will be needed over the next 10 years to pay for it.
“I promised to protect Medicare,” Kissell said. “While I believe we need health care reform and was proud to be an original co-sponsor of the bill to end the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies, I gave my word to the citizens of the Eighth District that I would protect Medicare ... I am a man of my word, and I have kept my word to protect Medicare.”
Kissell pointed out that while he isn’t opposed to health care reform, he is opposed to doing it this way.
Aside from his bill to end anti-trust exemptions for health insurance companies, Kissell has also voted to expand health insurance for children, introduced legislation that would require Medicare to offer coverage for citizens with lymphedema, voted to repeal a payment reduction to physicians from Medicare and voted to support home health care during this session of Congress.
Kissell was joined by North Carolina Democrats Mike McIntyre and Heath Shuler in opposing the bill. All of North Carolina’s Republican delegation opposed it.
For Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Antonio Blue, Sunday’s vote felt like a victory, and “a good start.”
“I think it’s a very good thing, because people need health care,” Blue said. “Hopefully, we’ll work on getting whatever needs to be fixed fixed, and people who need to be seen or need treatment can get it.”
Blue said he’d only had the opportunity to talk to a few county Democrats since the passage of the bill, but there was a lot of support in the party heading up to the vote.
“I think the majority of the people were for health care reform,” Blue said. “There was a lot of support here in the county, and just like anything else, there were some that were against it.”
Now that health care reform has passed all its major hurdles, the details of what it actually does should become more clear.
In the lead up to the vote, advocacy groups on both sides of the coin spun the facts to support their own positions.
According to the Associated Press, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the legislation will extend coverage to 32 million Americans, ban insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and cut deficits by an estimated $138 billion in the next decade.
This would expand health coverage to 95 percent of everyone who is eligible under 65.
According to the leadership of the Richmond County Republican Party, that’s not all it will do.
“What many Americans don’t realize is that what happened last night was the Trojan Horse for the government takeover of the country,” said Lee Butler, Richmond County Republican Party chairman. “The problem is that on the Left, they’re hiding behind the slogan of health care reform. Everybody on both sides of the aisle want health care reform, meaning they want health care to be affordable. But this bill is the vehicle by which government will expand its control over our everyday lives.”
Butler said those who believe they will now “have free health care and live in a utopian society,” are in for a rude awakening once doctors and nurses become government employees.
“They are going to be caught in the nuance, the technicality, the red tape that is government,” Butler said. “And their everyday health care decisions will now be dictated by a government bureaucrat.”
He said he has one question for those who suggest the government won’t be involved in the health care decisions of its citizens.
“Can you prove it with what’s written in the bill,” Butler asked. “Most people don’t know what’s in the bill, and when you have (U.S. Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi saying point blank that you’ll see what’s in the bill after we pass it, we know it’s a bad piece of legislation.”
The bill must now be reconciled in the Senate, then will move on to President Obama’s desk to be signed.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.