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Health Care

Few Shades Of Gray In Reaction To Health Care Bill

Love it or hate it. Across the nation, reaction to the landmark health care legislation that made it through the House late Sunday seemed to echo the bitter division in Washington, drawing either praise or excoriation.

Jim Duffett, executive director of the Illinois grass-roots group Campaign for Better Healthcare, called the vote historic. "Hard-working Americans will no longer be taken advantage of by the insurance industry," he told The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill.

But the newspaper also quoted Dr. Craig Backs, chief medical officer of the city's St. John's Hospital, as saying there remained "a lot of issues to be resolved," including "a gap in Medicare funding [and] an absence of any meaningful liability reform."

"One of the concerns I have is how much public support will be there for a bill that was passed without any Republican support whatever. It certainly isn't bipartisan," Backs said.

Republicans have pushed to limit awards on malpractice claims, something that didn't make it into the final House bill.

Proponents lauded the passage of legislation that gradually extends health coverage to more 32 million Americans. The measure, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost $940 billion over the first decade, also forbids insurers to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions or place lifetime dollar limits on coverage.

Some critics feared that federal funding might be used for abortions, but the wording of the bill appears to place a firm wall between private and public funding. The president issued an executive order affirming that language Sunday, securing the needed votes of still-wavering conservative Democrats.

It wasn't enough, however, to win over Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston. O'Malley blasted the bill on his blog, saying it would do an end run around the Hyde Amendment, which has expressly prohibited federal funding of abortions since 1976.

"I think it's unfortunate that some Catholic groups have not paid close enough attention to what the bishops are saying regarding the present legislation," O'Malley wrote. "It would undermine the Hyde Amendment and put us at the mercy of regulations that could very easily be altered."

The legislation now goes to President Obama, who will most likely sign it into law Tuesday. The House also passed a so-called reconciliation measure Sunday that makes significant changes to the main health care bill. That bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats think they can muster the votes for passage.

In a Monday morning editorial,The Kansas City Star wrote that despite the long and contentious battle, "in the end, Obama won because he bravely plunged ahead."

"He defied critics on the right who wanted to kill health care reform. He defied skeptics on the left who urged him to champion a smaller overhaul of health care," the newspaper said.

But The Detroit News accused Democrats of ramming through a bill "buttered with promises and pay-offs."

"Passing such sweeping legislation against the public ... with the votes of just one party and by bending the rules of lawmaking, will make it much harder to convince taxpayers to endure the sacrifices that these changes will mandate," its editorial said.

The Miami Herald called the bill's passage "an ugly victory" but nonetheless declared it a win of historic proportion. "Obama can take credit for greatly expanding health insurance for the American people and restructuring how it works, on a scale that no president before has been able to achieve," it said.

Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council said in a statement that the overhaul would not be good for its members. "The legislation will burden small business owners with crushing taxes and costs," she said. "It will not lower the cost of health coverage. It will kill jobs."

On Wall Street, major stock indexes were in positive territory Monday afternoon, including an index of health care stocks. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index of health insurers was up nearly 2 percent in early afternoon trading, while the S&P Health Care Sector index rose more than 1 percent.

Moody's Investor Service said the health overhaul would be "neutral to modestly positive" for for-profit hospitals, but negative for not-for-profit health care institutions.