While last year’s health care reform law is under attack at the federal level and in many parts of the country, state officials and most of Connecticut’s congressional delegation gathered at the state capitol to celebrate its first birthday.
The rally, which consisted of supportive statements from elected officials, was peppered with testimony from Connecticut residents who were directly helped by the law and some whose stories may have ended happier if the reform was enacted sooner.
University of Connecticut student Steven Waslo said the law helped his family tremendously last year when his sister came down with an extremely rare nerve disorder. Her illness required blood transfusions three times a month, he said. They were distilled from the blood of 1,000 separate donors and cost $20,000 each time, he said. Without health care reform her coverage would have been dropped, he said.
“These laws saved my sister’s life,” he said.
Now his sister is about to law school on a full scholarship, he said.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said that while much of the health care law is still being implemented, it’s important to recognize what it has already accomplished.
Murphy said those measurable results include 508,000 seniors who will pay less for prescriptions this year than last year, 53,000 businesses who will pay less on their taxes this year, and 10,000 young adults who can now stay on their parents insurance plans.
All told, the reform will help hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents this year, he said.
“While you see today public polls showing that 70 percent of Americans reject and oppose the Republican’s plan to repeal, it’s because they are living the reality,” he said.
Despite poll numbers, the measure continues to face opposition in Washington D.C. In January, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, passed a largely symbolic measure to repeal the law.
Though it’s unlikely the Senate’s Democratic majority would allow a similar measure to pass that chamber and more unlikely President Barrack Obama would sign it into law, U.S. Rep. John Larson said his colleagues across the aisle are missing the point.
“The connection that is often lost on the newly arriving Constitutionalists is that this is about civil rights and patient rights,” he said.
The mood at the rally frequently swung from somber, as residents offered stories of personal tragedy like Elton Burritt of Plainville who lost his wife to cancer in 2007, to celebratory as the crowd recognized the efforts of the state’s congressional delegation to get the measure passed last year.
At one point state House Speaker Chris Donovan, Murphy, Larson and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal even cut a health care reform birthday cake.
But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that it was right to recognize the efforts of the state’s delegation, but it’s also appropriate to recognize other members of Congress who sacrificed their political careers when they cast their vote in favor of the law.
“Understand, there are heroes who lost their elections because they did what John [Larson] asked them to do,” he said.
Malloy also said in meeting with governors across the country he has been disturbed, and a little impressed, he said, by the ferocity with which the laws opponents are trying to tear it down. That includes governors in 29 states, he said.
Despite an ongoing threat to the reforms, Malloy said Connecticut continues to be a leader in implementing them. And that has been beneficial to the state, he said.
“That’s the reason we’ve gotten grants. That’s the reason why we’re getting more grants,” he said.
Donovan, who was lauded during the rally for devoting his whole career to helping health care reform in Connecticut, likened the federal law to having a child. There are ups and downs in raising children but regardless, you keep moving forward, he said.
He used his home town of Meriden as an example of why government sponsored health care is important. Of the town’s 60,000 residents, 15,000 are covered by Medicaid, he said.
“Without government sponsored health care they’d have nothing,” he said. “Let’s hear it for government sponsored health care.”
The speaker also used some of his time at the podium to plug SustiNet, Connecticut’s attempt at a public health care option.
Donovan expressed hope that the SustiNet bill would pass this year and said it was good to have a governor who wouldn’t veto the efforts of the Democratic majority. Donovan’s comments aside, the Malloy administration has expressed some doubt about whether now is the appropriate time to implement Sustinett.
There were a few past and present members of the state’s congressional delegation who were not present. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro was attending another event in her district.
Former Sen. Chris Dodd, who was instrumental in ushering the bill through the Senate after Massachusetts Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy died, has since retired and become the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, who many hold responsible for removing a public option from the law, did not attend the event, choosing instead to meet with constituents at a pizzeria in Torrington as part of his “Cup of Joe with Joe” tour.