To: Democratic Members of Congress
Re: Your Vote on Health Insurance Reform
When you cast your vote this weekend on the historic health care reform bill, you will be faced with a simple, clear choice: cast a vote for average Americans, or for health insurance companies.
The stark clarity of the choice is obvious to most Americans, but it has not yet come into focus for some of your colleagues. Yesterday I spoke with several Democratic Members who professed to still be studying the "details" of the bill and pondering their decision.
The health care reform measures have been debated and discussed in Congressional Committees, articles and columns, town meetings, and millions of discussions throughout America for six months. Time for dithering is over. Now -- in the words of the old union anthem -- Members of Congress have to decide which side they're on.
Only one small group of Americans would benefit economically from the defeat of the House health insurance reform bill: the private insurance industry. They want to be free to continue raising premiums four times faster than wages. They don't want the government to prevent them from denying coverage to people who get really sick or have pre-existing conditions. Their profits and CEO salaries and bonuses have been heading skyward even in the midst of the recession.
They love being exempt from the anti-trust laws and the freedom that gives them to divide up insurance markets and raise prices without the fear of serious competition. They are thrilled that, according to an AMA study, 94% of insurance markets are "non-competitive." Health insurance companies love things just the way they are.
Of course if, like CIGNA Insurance CEO Ed Hanway, you made $12.2 million a year ($5,553 per hour), you might also like things the way they are. Like the insurance industry, you too might have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to frighten senior citizens, confuse your colleagues and promote right wing myths like "death panels."
The House stands on the brink of passing historic legislation that creates a public health insurance option that will end the stranglehold of the insurance industry on our health care system. For the first time, the bill will make health insurance available to almost everyone in America -- allowing our country to join the ranks of every other developed nation in making health care a right.
The battle to make health care a right in America has gone on for almost a century. At every turn, measures to do so have been blocked by special interests that were capable of convincing enough Members of Congress that the favors they could do, the campaign contributions they could make, the misinformation and fear they could spew, meant more than the lives of the 22,000 people who die each year because they don't have insurance. Or that those things meant more than the financial ruin that is visited upon million of Americans for no fault of their own except they had the misfortune of getting seriously ill.
What is at stake in the vote this weekend is a question of values. Do we value the wealth and power of a set of large corporations more than the lives and welfare of our families, our friends and our neighbors?
Many of your colleagues in Congress will wish that one provision or the other of this legislation were different. But in the end, each of you is now forced to make only one choice: will you vote with the insurance industry or with everyday Americans.
And there is no political excuse for any Democrat. We've all seen the polling. The elements of insurance reform -- especially the public option and provisions to prevent denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions -- are popular everywhere. In every corner of America, the insurance companies are right down there at the bottom of the popularity heap with Wall Street Banks and Jack the Ripper.
And something else. If Democrats lose on health insurance reform, the Members who will pay the price are those in the most marginal districts -- the same way they did after the failure of health care reform in 1994. The political fortunes of Democrats in swing districts depends on the popularity of the President and the Democratic brand -- and that hinges on the success of health insurance reform. The fact is that just as a rising tide raises all boats, so a receding political tide leaves those in the shallowest political water aground.
Finally, here is a news flash: not one of the "tea party" gang that came to the Capitol yesterday has any intention whatsoever of ever voting for a Democrat -- whether or not you vote for health insurance reform. They are the hard core of the Republican right that has managed to hijack their own party and convert it into a club that talks to each other rather than the American people.
There is no reason, no excuse, for any Democrat to vote no on health care reform.
And there is one more reason why every Member should vote "aye." This is one of the most historic votes you will ever take. Would you have wanted to tell your grandchildren that you were one of the few Democrats that voted against Social Security, or Medicare, or the 1964 Civil Rights Bill? This is the same kind of vote.
Don't be on the wrong side of history. Leave a legacy that will make you proud for generations to come. This weekend, vote yes for health insurance reform.
P.S.: For those of you that are not Members of Congress - call your Member right now -- the moment you stop reading this article - and tell them to vote yes on health care reform. Many Members have instructed their staffs to count the number of calls they get on each side as we approach the vote. Weigh in with your vote right now.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win available on Amazon.com.