09/23/2010 03:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Health Reform a Welcome Birthday Present for One Denver Boy

As the president's health reform legislation kicks in today, I'm thinking about Justin.

When the package was passed, it came just in time for his 11th birthday, a day he survived to see thanks to our country's great health care system that saved his life. He can hope to live a long life thanks to health care reform.

"It is a big relief," said his dad Joe, an old friend of mine in Denver who has spent countless nights worrying about Justin's future.

The health reform that passed on Sunday night wasn't everyone's ideal. Progressives say it didn't go far enough. Conservatives see in it the unraveling of America as we know it. Most Americans didn't support it, either. Why? Search me.

Maybe they need to meet Justin.

Justin was born with a metabolic disorder in which his liver didn't work right. That led to extra ammonia in his blood, and that damaged his brain.

A liver transplant at the age of two saved his life. But it nearly doomed him for the rest of his days. Joe bought extended health insurance for Justin, but that still didn't cover some of his intensive care claims, when he needed it most.

Before his third birthday, Justin had nearly maxed out his $1 million lifetime coverage limit. What kind of life is that for a kid who might need another liver transplant at any time? For a kid taking $1,000 in prescription medicine a month?

"There's no way we could pay for those without insurance," Joe said.

Fortunately, Joe got new health insurance without a lifetime cap. But with a pre-existing condition from his earliest days, getting new health insurance would be tough for Justin.

If this health care reform doesn't go as far as some crusaders wished, it seems tailor-made for Justin. Lifetime caps? Gone. Rejections for pre-existing conditions? Gone. Justin can stay on his parents' insurance until he's 26, good news for a boy left developmentally delayed by his childhood condition. And he's guaranteed to get health insurance, even if he has trouble landing a job that will provide it for him.

"It's really promising for his future," Joe said.

I'm at a loss as to what the controversy was all about. With one in 10 Americans out of work, and insurance tied to our employment, plenty of our neighbors are in danger. More than 17 percent of Coloradans lack health insurance. More than a quarter of adults under Medicare age in our Congressional district lack health insurance.

According to a report by Families USA, a health-care reform advocacy group, the new reform will mean 533,000 uninsured Coloradans will have coverage by 2019. If it failed, 138,000 Coloradans would have lost their health insurance by the same year.

After the bill passed, health insurance companies saw their stocks rise.

It's clear to me who the winners in this are. I have yet to see any losers, except Republicans, many of whom backed away from their one-time support of similar bills to play a coldhearted game of chicken with Democrats. This on the backs of constituents who need affordable health care.

An American baby is twice as likely to die as one born in France, Finland, Iceland or Hong Kong. The infant mortality rate in Sweden and Singapore is almost one-third ours. Cuba, Canada, Slovenia, Sweden, Malta, Macau and the Isle of Man all have lower infant mortality rates than we do. Is that OK with people who say they're pro-life?

"America is hanging by a thread," Rush Limbaugh told radio listeners on after the bill passed.

Six months later, it looks like a thread of decency.

What do opponents say to someone like Justin, who nearly lost his health coverage by the age of two?

"I'm counting on a full life for this kiddo," Joe told me. "Now I can get sleep at night knowing that he'll be insured."

David Frey writes in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Follow him at