By REP. PRICEY HARRISON
I spent last Sunday watching the health care debate unfold on television. When vote 216 was cast in favor of reform I felt relief. I felt relief that hope and possibility triumphed over fear and cynicism. And I was excited the next day to receive a call from the White House thanking me for my efforts on behalf of reform and inviting me to the signing ceremony in Washington.
It was humbling to sit with administration officials, labor leaders, physicians, nurses, and pastors who had all worked tirelessly to build support for health reform legislation. The room where we watched was electric as President Obama signed the bill before a smaller gathering at the White House. The cheers and ovations felt like Inauguration Day. At that moment, I thought about the long hours logged by average people across North Carolina to make this day possible. And I knew all the work was worth it.
As I listened to the president describe the benefits of reform, I reflected on what this historic day would mean for my constituents and all North Carolinians. Since taking office in the General Assembly, I have seen the people I represent devastated by our broken health care system. Last year while riding my bicycle down Friendly Avenue, I encountered a woman standing on the side of the road holding a sign that read “Cancer Patient Needs Help with Food and Rent.” The expense of cancer treatments left this grandmother choosing between medicine and food each month.
Then there was the single mother of two adult disabled children living on $636 a month after she lost her two jobs because of a medical condition. She could not adequately treat her ailment because she had no health insurance and could not afford to see a doctor. Still another constituent lost her job and then her Irving Park home because a debilitating illness rendered her unable to work. Her medical bills forced her to the brink of homelessness.
As I listened to the president address the nation, I thought about how these constituents and thousands more like them would benefit from reform. I thought about the seniors who will finally get help purchasing prescription drugs. I thought about all the people with pre-existing conditions who will soon have access to a new subsidized high-risk pool insurance plan. No longer will insurance companies dump patients when they get sick. And no longer will children be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
As a result of this reform, small business owners will get tax credits and subsidies to help offset the cost of providing health insurance to employees. In North Carolina, small businesses drive the economy. Health reform exempts most small businesses from offering health coverage and helps those business owners who want to provide insurance. And this bill will unleash budding entrepreneurs who were afraid to strike out on their own for fear of losing their health coverage.
We should all be thankful to our hometown Sen. Kay Hagan for her courageous support of reform. And we should thank Reps. Brad Miller, Mel Watt, G.K. Butterfield, Bob Etheridge and David Price. With all the misinformation, this was a tough vote for every member of Congress. But these representatives believed, to paraphrase President Obama, that America can still do big things.
This bill is not perfect, but it’s a good start. After a century of trying, America is well on its way to ensuring that everyone has affordable health coverage. And that’s worth celebrating.
Pricey Harrison is a Democratic member of the N.C. House of Representatives from Greensboro.