Health Reform, a Working-class Victory

Published on political affairs.net pa, by Joel Wendland, March 31, 2010.

President Obama’s major victory on health reform in March was a defining moment in his presidency. More importantly, the passage of the law stands as a significant victory for the working class and the American people. We join with the labor and people’s movements in celebrating this historic milestone.

A number of commentators have described the law as the biggest reversal of inequality in America since LBJ’s Great Society program. We agree with that assessment, and below are discussed some of the ways the law attacks inequality to provide healthcare to nearly every American with an improved system. There are some points, however, on the reform that need improvements and should lay the basis for future political struggle. In addition to this, the health reform victory has likely reshaped the terrain of political struggle and puts the labor and people’s coalition on an exciting new footing moving forward.  

Regulatory reform: … //

… Expanded public programs:

Over the next couple of years, the law will expand access to Medicaid to individuals (for the first time) and to families who make about 133 percent of the federal poverty rate. Every individual earning about $15,000 or less and every family of four earning about $30,000 or less will have access to this new program. Key concerns remain about ongoing funding for this part of the law, but the coverage will have to meet the new federal standards enacted in the law, including new requirements that checkups and preventive care will be completely free.

Individuals and families without insurance who earn between 133 percent and 400 percent of poverty will also be eligible for subsidies on premiums through new health insurance exchanges. Depending on income, premiums are capped at between three percent and 9.5 percent of income.

The law also closes the so-called Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” enacted under the Republican Medicare privatization scheme in 2005. In 2011, retirees who fall into the doughnut hole will get a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs, and within the decade the hole will be completely closed.

Small businesses, which now employ about 14 million of the almost 50 million uninsured workers in the US and pay an average of 18 percent more than bigger companies for health benefits, will get a range of tax subsidies to help provide health benefits for their employees.

A new program will encourage businesses to provide early retiree benefits to people over 55.

The health reform law will also add about $10 billion in federal funding for community clinics. This provision alone will allow an additional 20 million patients, mainly immigrants and people living in rural areas, get access to health care, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. Currently, community clinics get a paltry $2 billion each year from the federal government.

Mandates, taxes and exchanges: …   (full text).

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