The final stimulus package, which the President is scheduled to sign later this afternoon, includes a fair number of health provisions. Yet it’s not a total victory for progressive health advocates. In the run-up to the passage last week of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, negotiators compromised on some key health components:
For instance, while the final compromise includes $87 billion in additional Medicaid funds to states over 27 months, a 65% subsidy to cover COBRA premiums for nine months, $19 billion for health information technology, $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research and $1 billion for prevention and wellness, negotiators considered Republican objections and stripped provisions that would have allowed workers “to stay on Cobra until they qualified for Medicare” or enroll in Medicaid if they can’t afford COBRA premiums “even with the new subsidies”.
Despite these concessions (and many others), only three Republicans voted for the stimulus bill. The rest stonewalled action to help the economy recover, even as millions of Americans were losing their jobs and health insurance. In fact, according to a forthcoming analysis by James Kvaal and Ben Furnas, as the unemployment rate grew by 0.8 points in December and January, nearly 100,000 people a week or 14,000 people a day lost their health coverage:
Obama reminded lawmakers, “This is not a game…These are your constituents. These are families you know and you care about.” Yet Republicans ignored those suffering from the burden of growing health care costs and limited access, and took their marching orders from conservative pundits who urged lawmakers to unite against the bill.
The ranks of the uninsured will grow as the recession persists, in spite of conservative obstructionism. As Jacob Hacker points out, the stimulus “won’t provide the cure. What we need is a new New Deal.”
Indeed, the reality of 14,000 Americans losing their health coverage daily suggests that the stimulus is no substitute for health reform. Congress must now turn the page to reforming the health care system, dragging conservatives kicking and screaming across the finish line.