It’s Time to Thank Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid isn’t exactly the most popular person around here. As Majority Leader, he’s been a disappointment to progressives. We worked hard for a 60 vote Majority in the Senate last year, and we earned it. We were disappointed when we had to fight just as hard to get progressive health care reform to be taken seriously.

It is tempting–and too easy–to blame Harry Reid for the current situation. But the reality is that the insurance industry and their Wall Street backers are spending $1.4 million a day lobbying against health care reform. They paid a well known political hack–former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey–to write an editorial claiming that a great provision of health care reform–a provision which would allow Medicare to reimburse individuals for living will consultations–would somehow create “death panels.”

Then came August, August, and a month of industry funded groups busing in a small minority of crazed citizens to audition for the role of Richard Henne’s sidekick on a bad reality TV show. The media couldn’t resist the pointless spectacle, and negative stories about health care reform dominated an entire month. Even so, 60% of the public still supported a public option–the key component of progressive health care reform.

So the industry decided to release a report claiming that health care reform would cause premiums to rise. The study was so widely panned that even the organization the health insurance industry paid to write it backed away from it.

Since then Harry Reid has shown a willingness to fight the health insurance industry. Harry Reid is fighting an industry which actively tries to purge ill policyholders, an industry which denies a cancer patient a needed surgery because she failed to disclose a previous case of acne, which which makes it impossible for people with serious, but treatable, chronic illnesses to obtain health insurance (and therefore access to health care), an industry which seeks to prevent newborn babies from obtaining health insurance because they are either too heavy or too light an industry which has defined domestic violence and rape as pre-existing conditions and therefore prevented victims from obtaining much-needed treatment.

After taking all of these immoral actions, health insurance executives see nothing wrong with rewarding employees who do the dirty work of denying people medical care with bonuses and good performance evaluations. Health insurance CEOs also then reward themselves with seven, eight, and even nine figure salaries. Well compensated CEOs and high level executives then turn around and donate a small portion of their salary to powerful politicians.

This makes changing American health care reform for the better, and putting patients before profits the most difficult thing to get through Congress. Every Democratic President since Franklin D. Roosevelt has thought about reforming health care. With the exception of Lyndon Johnson, who got Medicare passed, they’ve all failed. While Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are showing a willingness to take on an out-of-control industry, the President himself has stayed on the sidelines, too wary of the power of the insurance industry to stand up for a public option behind the scenes.

Harry Reid is a politician who got his start by taking on the mob in Nevada. A crook Reid helped send to jail even placed a bomb on his car. Now, having reached the height of his political career, Harry Reid is again fighting the good fight against a powerful special interest on behalf of the people.

If Senator Reid is successful in including a public option in the health care legislation that passes the Senate, insurers will finally be held accountable by the public. The days of denying care because someone they’re sick will be over. The days of making huge profits off of keeping a cancer patient out of the operating room will end. And the days of people not being able to go to the doctor because they are too poor to afford the dignity of medical care will end.

Senator Reid’s leadership on this issue has been impressive. Progressives should thank him. The President’s failure to take on vested special interests is disappointing. Progressives should remind the President that the American people put him in office to take on powerful lobbyists and fight for a policy which would put patients before profits. Progressives should ask the President to seize the moment and ensure that the health care reform legislation he signs this Fall will include a strong public option.

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