It was the second annual convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1965. And during this conference in Chicago, our great civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a speech that till this day resonates with those who see disparity in our health care system. It was on March 25 – precisely 44 years ago - that MLK said: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman." To the 220 members of Congress who voted yes for health care reform on Sunday, the citizens of the United States at long last say thank you for representing our desires, thank you for representing our needs and thank you for representing the will of the people.
For decades, Presidents have tried and failed to push through health care legislation that would begin to rectify the unfair practices of health care providers and the egregious monopoly of the insurance industry. There were efforts by Harry Truman after the Second World War, a push by Lyndon B. Johnson and who can forget the unyielding work of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. But it wasn't until Sunday, into the late hours of the night, that the U.S. Congress effectively passed this historic health care legislation. Following a year of fierce debate and town hall meetings that ended in shouting matches, the Democrats and President Obama solidified their pledge that change would indeed come to Washington.
No one can deny that the road to health care reform was embedded with hurdles and difficulties beyond comprehension. Nor is anyone avowing that all problems within our health care system will be immediately resolved. But for the first time in our nation's history, American children cannot be denied coverage because they have pre-existing conditions, small businesses will receive a tax credit for providing health care, young adults can stay on their parent's insurance until the age of 27 and insurance companies cannot cut someone when he or she gets sick. And by 2014, annual caps will be eliminated, health care exchanges will be available, adults with pre-existing conditions will no longer be discriminated against and much much more. Let us not forget, all progressive legislation – including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – did not grant everything all at once. Instead, it was amendments and other additions to the initial law that created the equality we know and enjoy today. This health care reform bill therefore is the first step in finally achieving a semblance of justice in an area that has shocked and outraged everyone concerned with the betterment of humanity.
President Obama clearly outlined his plan for health care overhaul early on during his campaign for the Presidency. And after winning the election, he spent the first year in office not only fighting for this legislation, but also reaching across the aisle. Incorporating both Democratic and Republican concepts into this bill, and making changes along the way, the President allowed an open exchange of ideas that ultimately delayed a vote on health care reform for an entire year. Let's be blatantly clear about one thing: Republicans influenced many alterations to this bill – including the loss of a public option – and yet not a single one of them voted in favor of it this past weekend. As we approach the mid-term elections and other battles in key states, let us never ever forget this fact.
Not since the 1960s has such historic legislation passed the Congress and appeared before the President's desk. But also not since that era have we witnessed such open vitriol, bigotry and reprehensible behavior. The idea that members of Congress had racial epithets like the 'N word' hurled at them, and others were spat at only proves the fact that we are unfortunately a long long way from even being close to a post-racial society. And to those pundits and voices on the right that stoke this sort of behavior, you will only lose in the end. You doubted President Obama and the Democrats – they delivered. You created hysteria surrounding health care reform all across the country – it passed on Sunday. And you continue to incite division and racial disparity – and the people will continue voting in the way of progress. Yes we can, and yes we will.