Yesterday Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius compared opponents of the Affordable Care Act to opponents of civil rights legislation. In remarks at the 104th NAACP Annual Conference, Sebelius said:
The Affordable Care Act is the most powerful law for reducing health disparities since Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965, the same year the Voting Rights Act was also enacted.
That significance hits especially close to home. My father was a Congressman from Cincinnati who voted for each of those critical civil rights laws, and who represented a district near where the late Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth lived and preached.
The same arguments against change, the same fear and misinformation that opponents used then are the same ones opponents are spreading now. “This won’t work,” “slow down,” “let’s wait”—they say.
It’s a good thing we know that Sebelius is exaggerating here. If the ACA is the civil rights legislation of our time, then what does that say of President Obama’s decision to delay the employer mandate? Slowing down the “march of progress” seems to be exactly the administration is doing.
And yet, setting aside this easy-to-mock rhetorical jab, Sebelius has half a point. As Americans, we do have a duty to make quality, cheap health care available to all our fellow citizens, and the failure to do so is major stain on our national character.
Just how much closer Obamacare brings us to that goal remains unclear, but even if we take the most optimistic estimates of the law’s supporters at face value, there will still be a lot to do. The sooner we can start discussing the deep, structural changes our system needs, the better.
[Kathleen Sebelius photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]