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Health bill is good, now make it better

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
  • Republican President Nixon proposed health care reform in 1974
  • Donna Brazile says Democrats opposed it then, now opposition is from GOP
  • She says Senate vote was good, but Democrats need to improve the bill
  • Brazile: Offer Americans the chance for a public plan, such as Medicare

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is vice chair for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, a nationally syndicated columnist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She was the campaign manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000 and wrote "Cooking With Grease."

(CNN) -- "Comprehensive health insurance is an idea whose time has come in America. There has long been a need to assure every American financial access to high quality health care. As medical costs go up, that need grows more pressing." -- Republican President Nixon's special message to Congress proposing a "Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan," February 6, 1974

Back then, it was Democrats who didn't think Nixon's proposal did enough. Today, when the need for reform is so pressing that it's literally killing people, it's Republicans and the insurance industry who think that.

The story of the battle for health reform shares some themes with the title of the seminal spaghetti western film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" released seven years before Nixon proposed his health plan.

There's not much good to be said about the Republicans' ugly commitment to failure and obstruction during the past year. As a tactic to delay a vote on health reform, Republicans even went so far as to try to filibuster money needed to pay for American soldiers in harm's way.

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Republicans showed their true colors on that one. It just doesn't get badder -- or uglier. They don't care about the thousands who die every year because they lack proper health care. They don't care about the millions who live in fear every day because they lack health insurance. And they obviously don't care about giving our troops the funding they need. What they do care about is cheap political gain.

Democrats cannot let Republicans get away with such brazen and irresponsible games. Democrats must regain control of this debate, show the leadership that earned them 60 seats in the Senate and prove that they can fulfill our country's promise. To not assume this responsibility spells one thing in 2010: d-e-f-e-a-t.

Luckily defeat, for Democrats and health care reform alike, is not inevitable, as the Senate showed in passing a bill Thursday. Indeed, at this point, it's not even likely. The Democrats' health care reform bill has much good to offer:

• Your choice of doctors will be protected and insurers will be prohibited from requiring prior authorization before a woman sees her OB/GYN.

• Insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage once you get sick.

• Dependents up to the age of 26 will be able to receive coverage on their parents' policy and your children, 18 and younger, can no longer be excluded for pre-existing conditions.

• Insurance companies will cover preventive services and immunizations without co-pays.

• You will have access to emergency care, in or out of network, without additional cost sharing.

• Insurance companies will be barred from limiting lifetime benefits and will face strict restrictions on annual limits.

• Affordable insurance will be made available if you have been uninsured or have been denied coverage because you have a pre-existing condition.

• Small businesses will be eligible for tax credits to help them afford the cost of providing insurance to their employees.

Granted, the whole topic is complicated, but when you break it all down and explain to folks what health reform means, they support it. Today, 40 percent of Americans are either worried about being able to afford routine care or pay for their prescriptions. And, according to a recent report by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, despite all of the myths, scare tactics and half-truths being spread by Republicans and special-interest groups, four out of five people know that fixing health care is key to getting our economy back on track.

The time for health reform is now. Democrats -- and that means all of you in Congress and the White House -- must not squander this moment. Don't get lazy and think that the good in health reform is good enough. It's not.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter: Senate bill isn't health reform

It's your moment to stand together as one and deliver real reform to the American people. They deserve your leadership. They deserve your best. And that means making these good bills even better.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, even while undergoing cancer treatments in Massachusetts, fought for universal health care coverage, which the 47-year Senate veteran called "the cause" of his life. We must pick up the mantle. We must fight to provide health care for all Americans.

I do not accept that history has already been written and this is what we got. Congress can do better. Congress must do better.

Congress can offer universal health care coverage by giving people an alternative to the private health insurance market. In a nutshell, give people the choice of a public health insurance option like Medicare. According to government and academic research, Medicare is less expensive and more effective than private plans. For example, only 2 percent of Medicare goes to overhead while private insurers typically spend 25 percent to 27 percent for overhead and profit.

A public health insurance option like Medicare will ensure that insurance companies no longer control patients' health care decisions. It will ensure that people can truly afford the care they need. And it will ensure that we pay for it responsibly while not adding to working people's burden.

As Kennedy, the "Lion of the Senate" once so eloquently told us, "for all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.