The Best Bad Thing to Happen in a Very Long Time

The U.S. Congress seems to have taken the first steps toward offering government protections to American citizens in regard to their health care. This is being accomplished via an extremely imperfect set of inconsistent regulations, cobbled together as a result of courage, compromise, and cowardice, in ways that will infuriate many, but which will help millions. I'm not much of a praying man, but I say Hallelujah and Amen.

Do I think it's a good bill? Hell, no. Some of its repercussions will be unforeseen, and might even backfire. Plenty of people, organizations, and corporations will figure out how to exploit it. But it's a start. And, in spite of all the threats, misinformation, and fear mongering (and all the unnecessary and redundant posturing by the "sanctity of life" cabal), it's being approved -- so far -- along with open statements that it's a "first step." Hallelujah and Amen, once again.

It's tragic that progress in this country can sometimes take so long. It's tragic that so many feel so inspired to fight against it. It's tragic that it happens, and is happening, in such baby steps (and that fact will continue to have tragic consequences). But make no mistake: something huge has happened. An enormous victory has occurred. A gate has swung open, and barring further calamitous economic erosion, people will soon (or not so soon) begin to experience the positive effect portions of this legislation will have on their lives. Quite possibly, those who have feared "government takeovers" will instead experience beneficial government regulations that should have been in place for decades already.

Many will continue to suffer, and some will suffer anew. Personally, my bill for health insurance will rise by thousands of dollars per year. As one of those privileged enough to have excellent insurance benefits provided by my union at lower than market rates, I'll be taxed heavily on the value of that coverage. It'll be about seven thousand after-tax dollars a year out of my pocket. And I couldn't be happier about it. That seven grand is going to help provide insurance coverage for 32 million people who've never had it before, and who've drained far more than that from our individual and collective pockets until now.

So, celebrate briefly, if you're celebrating at all. There's a tremendous amount of work still to be done. This bill will not curtail many of the outrageous behaviors of insurance companies. It is, in many ways, a slap in the face to women, for reasons that go far beyond reproductive rights. It still leaves millions uninsured, and leaves unclear how millions more will afford the insurance coverage they're now going to be mandated to buy. That's why single payer, Medicare for all, government provided health care is still the goal the United States must pursue, embrace, and accomplish.

But we're a hell of a lot closer to it than we were yesterday, or have ever been before. And, if we can also include reassuring those who've feared this first step as one of our many chores over the next few years; if we can enlighten them as to the ways they've been protected as never before; if we can use opportunities over the coming months and years to point out to them where and how they've still been left vulnerable; then perhaps we can take more steps toward more perfect solutions sooner than we might have hoped, or feared.

Evan Handler's latest book is It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive.