Monday, March 22, 2010

It Passed!

I've been twittering a good bit tonight about the healthcare bill that is on its way to Obama's desk. I haven't talked about such things much here, but providing decent healthcare as a basic right is something that is very much in line with Jesus' calling to care for the sick and needy, I believe. And due to the huge amount of fearmongering and politicking surrounding this bill, I decided to sit down and read the thing. Or at least a summary of the thing over at THOMAS - still no small feat, at over 20,000 words. But I read through it - skimming when it started getting into technicalities here and there. I'm not nearly a lawyer, but from what I understood, here's my overall summary of it:

Unsurprisingly, there was no dictated communist takeover of the country's healthcare system. What was there was the expansion of Medicaid to all the poor - the most important part of the bill for me. I wasn't sure, because it was a relatively short section. But Title II expands coverage to everyone below 133% of the poverty line, mandating it by 2014 and allowing it as soon as April 1 of this year. Previously getting Medicaid required you to be disabled, pregnant, or a child, with a few other qualifications. This bill removes those requirements. The bill also established a lot of basic requirements for health insurance - regulation of the insurance industry and of insurance plans to ensure that everyone (for some definition of everyone) has a given basic level of health coverage, and sets requirements for individuals to purchase coverage. It also, as promised, sets up a healthcare exchange that is kind of a central repository for insurance plans, monitored by the government. These were obviously the meat of the bill - health coverage standards, the individual mandate, and the insurance exchange - so they're in there for sure. There were also several sections that worked towards making information about doctors, healthcare plans, hospital ratings, and the like more available and open to the public. Additionally, there were many things to improve the existing programs, adding checks and requirements, and Title V added lots of funding to encourage students to go through medical school - loan forgiveness, additional loans, money to schools. These are all good things in my mind.

There was also a lot of fluffy language - requirements for things to be planned, "senses of the Senate," advising people to do this and that. I'm assuming this is pretty standard in politics, but it would be better without it.

Obviously, there was a lot more in there than that, but that's the quick version. I also took some notes of a few sections I found interesting or pertinent given everything that's been thrown around, that I've listed below:

  • Abortion, as I read it, is basically up to states, but there is no federal funding for abortion (Sec. 1303)
  • In addition to the expansion of Medicaid, people below 400% of the poverty line get special tax breaks for healthcare coverage (Sec. 1402)
  • The bill forbids discrimination against hospitals that don't participate in assisted suicide (Sec. 1553)
  • Coverage for anti-smoking medications is added to Medicaid (Sec. 2502)
  • There is funding for sex ed, both abstinence and contraception, with a special mention/funding of abstinence education (Sec. 2952 and 2953)
  • An Office of Women's Health is established in several departments (Sec. 3509)
  • If I'm reading it right, a federal mandate similar to the one in King County for restaurants to post calories and other nutritional information on their menus (Sec. 4205)
  • Special assistance for pregnant teens (Sec. 10212)
  • Employees at free clinics are protected under malpractice laws as if they were employees of Public Health Services (Sec. 10608)
For a more informed overview of the healthcare bill, check out PolitiFact's take, The New York Times' summary, or FactCheck's summary of recent arguments. But overall, I'm glad this thing finally passed, despite all the fearmongering, confusion, and deception that did its best to bring it down. Healthcare should be a basic right, all the more if you are concerned with the welfare of the least of these.

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