The Most Important Vote I Have Ever Cast

I have had one of those weeks that you remember for the rest of your life. On Tuesday, I won a congressional election. On Thursday, I was sworn in by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and got to cast the first vote of my congressional career: a resolution honoring female veterans and military personnel. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to cast the most important vote of my 34 years in public service.

The health care reform bill that cleared the House yesterday, if approved by the Senate, will transform this country’s health care delivery system. Denial of treatment for pre-existing conditions will be a thing of the past. None of us will have to worry that if we fail to report the chicken pox, we’ll be denied treatment from our insurers for cancer. Out-of-pocket expenses will be capped and subsidies and tax breaks will be made available to consumers and small businesses. This combined with the reduction in administrative overhead costs, the savings associated with an emphasis on preventative medicine, and other measures will provide us as individual consumers and as a nation with substantial long term cost savings. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the health care reform bill will cut the deficit by over $30 billion over the next decade and will continue to create a surplus over the next 20 years.

Yesterday’s plan also includes a public option that, while not as expansive I would have liked, is still very worthy of support. And as most of you are well aware, we had an unfortunate setback for women’s health in yesterday’s voting. But on the whole, this is change we can believe in.

When I was California’s Insurance Commissioner, my staff fielded thousands of calls from California residents who fell victim to the insurance industry shenanigans. When large fires hit San Diego, Oakland, and elsewhere, hundreds of consumers were victimized a second time by their insurance companies. My capable staff was successful at coming to a consumer-friendly resolution for almost all cases, but at times, I had to personally ring up high ranking industry executives to use all forms of persuasion available to my office to make sure my constituents were treated fairly.

When one’s business model depends on collecting monthly payments from people in the hope that you’ll never have to provide them with the services they are paying you for, it’s disappointing but not shocking that the insurance industry looks for loopholes to maximize its profits.

More over the flip…

It is from this motivation that we get babies denied health insurance because they’re “too fat” and women kicked off their insurance after requesting payment for emergency gallbladder surgery because their husbands failed to report high cholesterol. That’s why government intervention is sometimes necessary, to make sure the invisible hand of the market doesn’t become a closed fist.

In my run for Congress, I told anyone who asked that I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to return to Washington, DC to cast one of my first votes for comprehensive health care reform that includes the public option.

This week, I’m traveling to Livermore for my first town hall as a Congressman, and I will have four more through the month of December (at least one will be virtual, stay tuned). Given the rise in the unemployed and uninsured in my district, I expect many grateful supporters, but I also expect some naysayers. I am prepared to defend my vote, because I know it is best for my constituents and will help save lives. I also know most of my constituents have my back. After all, most of us know a friend or family member who has been on the wrong end of insurance industry malfeasance. Listen to my floor speech here to hear about what one friend of mine is going through.  

We still have a big fight ahead of us in the Senate, and I encourage all of you to call your Senators and demand they pass a good comprehensive health care reform bill that includes the public option. With helpful endorsements from the AARP and American Medical Association, and with two different congressional districts affirming their support for comprehensive health care reform in elections last week, momentum is on our side.

So thanks again for all you’ve done to make this bill a reality; believe me, it’s noticed. After the health care debate, we will move on to other big issues facing the nation: transportation, job creation, No Child Left Behind, troop placements, and the list goes on. If we pass comprehensive health care reform this year, it will mark the end of an important chapter in our nation’s history: the 40+ years between the passage of Medicare and the subsequent years we failed to live up to our country’s promise, letting millions of Americans live and die without adequate coverage. It will also mark the beginning of a new chapter: the years it will take us to lower the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 0. I’m hopeful we can beat four decades.

Congressman John Garamendi represents Northern California’s 10th Congressional District, which includes portions of Contra Costa, Solano, Alameda, and Sacramento counties. Prior to his election to Congress on November 3rd, 2009, Garamendi served as California’s Lieutenant Governor, where he fought to keep college affordable for students, developed innovative strategies to create green jobs, and kept California’s coastline pristine by preventing oil companies from drilling off California’s coast. With more than three decades of public service experience, Garamendi has been an Insurance Commissioner, Senate Majority Leader, Deputy Interior Secretary under President Bill Clinton, University of California Regent, California State University Trustee, and Peace Corps volunteer. To learn more, please follow Garamendi on Facebook and Twitter.

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