When candidate Obama came to the Marriott Hotel in Coralville in 2008, an enthusiastic, even joyous, crowd welcomed him to Iowa. I wasn’t a complete believer. But I was, like most in the crowd, infected by the spread of Hope.
Today, I was once again in a crowd of supporters cheering on Barack Obama — now President Obama. This week, he made good on a promise he’d made when he first stumped in Iowa in 2007: He signed into law health care reform.
Since 15,000 people had applied for only 3,000 tickets, I expected that a crowd would be gathered outside of the University of Iowa Field House, where the speech would take place. People representing both the pros and cons of the health care debate stood along the roadside facing the Field House. There was no clear division between them, and I wasn’t always sure from their signs whether they were in favor of the new law or against it.
Health Care for Vets
Two older gentlemen holding a large dove of peace. As this wasn’t an anti-war rally, I was confused by the dove. The man on my right, Bill Wallace, told me they were both veterans. “We didn’t fight for nuthin!” he said. Confused, I asked what he meant by that.
His companion, Dick Shaffer of University Heights, Iowa, said, “A lot of veterans come from the war and don’t have adequate health care.”
Wallace chimed in, “We have excellent health care here at the Veterans Hospital. But we want every veteran to have health care.”
In Support of Health Care
Standing next to the vets were T. Weaver Gullickson and her son, Brian, both holding signs supporting health care reform.
“We couldn’t get tickets, and I wanted to be part of it,” Brian said. “I will exercise my First Amendment right,” he added, holding his sign steady so that I could photograph it.
Next to Brian, Carolyn Anhalt of Washington, Iowa, told a story I hadn’t expected. “I’m in the Shelter House,” she said. “I am in danger in [my] house. So I ran away.” Someone helped her find safety at the local homeless shelter, she explained.
“My friend is a single mom,” Anhalt said. “She told me, ‘The only thing I can afford is food [not insurance].’ I believe everyone is entitled to health care, whether they can afford it or not.”
Don’t Tread on Me
“What do you think about health care reform?” I asked a man carrying a large banner that read, “Don’t Tread on Me.”
“I don’t like it,” he said.
“None of your business,” he replied.
“What’s your name?”
“None of your business.”
“Do you want to talk about why you don’t like the health care law?
So much for that conversation.
Kill Da Bill
Adam Sajewich, a University of Iowa student, was wearing a “Kill Da Bill” sign.
“I don’t believe that we should be giving insurance to the uninsured people who don’t work hard for a living,” he said. (I wondered what he and Anhalt would have to say to each other.)
“When I get out of school, my taxes will be absurdly high.”
He went on to say, “Zero Republicans voted for it, so that should send a message that no one agrees.”
Second-year medical student, Dustin Krutsinger was wearing a white medical coat. His sign read, “Does Obama care cover glasses for the Congress so they can read the Constitution?”
“This is just another thing in a long line of laws that are unconstitutional, coming out of both parties,” he said.
“The fact that Congress is going to make private individuals buy any product from any private company is blatantly unconstitutional.”
“Happy, Happy, Happy”
Inside the Field House, I asked Mae Schatteman, 86, how she feels about the health care law.
“I’m happy, happy, happy!” she said. “The people who didn’t want it will come to the realization a couple years from now that they’ll be glad. And they may need it!”
Her 93-year-old companion, who would only give her name as Eloise, said, “We need it.”
Eloise added, “I’m glad we don’t even have to change what we like. We can keep our own insurance!”
Enter the President
President Obama entered to rousing cheers and applause. He opened his speech with references to local events and the flooding that had devastated the state in 2008. Then he quickly got down to the reason he was here, in Iowa, as his first speech after signing the health care bill into law.
This is the state that believed in our campaign when all the pundits had written us off. This is the state that inspired us to keep going, even when the path was uncertain. And because of you, this is the place where change began.
Three years ago, I came here to make a promise. Just a few months into our campaign, I stood at the University of Iowa hospital right around the corner and promised that by the end of my first term in office, I would sign a health insurance reform bill.
On Tuesday, after a year of debate and a century of trying, after so many of you shared your stories and your heartaches and your hopes, that promise was finally fulfilled. And today, health insurance reform is the law of the land.
President Obama gave credit to the American people for persevering in the fight for health care reform, a fight for coverage despite pre-existing conditions, and a fight against insurance “premium hikes of 40% and 50% and 100%.”
Over the last year, there’s been a lot of misinformation spread about health care reform. There has been plenty of fear-mongering and overheated rhetoric. And if you turn on the news, you’ll see that those same folks are still shouting about how the world will end because we passed this bill. This is not an exaggeration. Leaders of the Republican Party have actually been calling the passage of this bill ‘Armageddon.’
He paused, and surveyed the crowd for effect. Then, with a characteristic wry grin, he said, “After I signed the bill, I looked around to see if asteroids were falling or cracks were opening up in the Earth. Turned out, it was a nice day.” The crowd roared with laughter. He continued,
But from this day forward, all of the cynics and the naysayers will have to finally confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn’t.
They will have to finally acknowledge that this isn’t a government takeover of our health care system. They will see that if Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. If people like their plan, they will keep their plan. No one will be able to take that away from you.
What this reform does is build on the system of private health insurance that we already have. Will it solve every health care problem we have? No. But it finally tells the insurance companies that in exchange for all the new customers they’re about to get, they have to start playing by a new set of rules that treat everyone fairly and honestly. The days of the insurance industry running roughshod over the American people are over.
The president went on to describe the main features of the health care legislation:
- More “secure and more affordable” insurance for families
- Tax credits of up to 35% for small businesses to provide health insurance for their employees
- Insurance for adults and children with preexisting conditions
- Preventing insurance companies from dropping people who get sick
- No lifetime limits on health care
- Free preventive care
- Young adults being able to stay on their parents’ insurance policy to age 26
- A $250 prescription boost to help seniors who fall into the “donut hole”
- No cuts in seniors’ Medicare benefits
- Free preventive care for seniors, “without deductibles or co-payments”
After outlining the benefits of the new law, President Obama acknowledged that not everyone is happy with it. A young man in the crowd repeatedly shouted out, “What about the public option?”
Mr. Obama stopped and addressed the young man. “We couldn’t get it through Congress,” he explained. “There’s no need to shout. Thirty-two million people will have health care,” he said, and the crowd burst into cheers and applause.
The president went on to acknowledge that the fight is not over.
This is the reform that some folks in Washington are still hollering about. And now that it’s passed, they’re already promising to repeal it. They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November.
My attitude is, ‘Go for it!’ If these Congressmen in Washington want to come here to Iowa and tell small business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest…. If they want to have that fight, I welcome that fight. Because I don’t believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat. We’ve been there already, and we’re not going back. This country is ready to move forward.
And from that point on, we were listening to a campaign speech that was designed more to ramp up the voters for the mid-term elections than to talk about health care reform. Even so, the speech fell on receptive ears, and the assembled crowd cheered and applauded the president’s remaining remarks.
As he worked the crowd before leaving with the press corps tailing him, the crowd stayed intact. It was only after a last round of enthusiastic applause as the president exited the room that the spectators began to file out, too.
As I left the building among swarms of people, I acknowledged that President Obama was right. Though health care reform had been signed into law, the world had not cracked in two, and Armageddon had not arrived. It was a lovely spring day.
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