Somehow a moderate and incremental piece of legislation emerged from a bitterly partisan political process (in substance, it is essentially a Republican bill passed by Democrats). But it is best to think of it not as the end to healthcare reform, but an important first step. Given the historical struggles to pass reform, more like a giant leap.
Before even knowing who the candidates would be, HealthLeaders editors reserved a spot for the 44th president of the United States in our November 2007 HealthLeaders magazine story about "20 People Who Make Healthcare Better."
"We are holding a spot for a purposeful, studied and impassioned driver of ideas that will change fundamental cracks in healthcare funding and quality," wrote editor Jim Molpus more than three years ago. "We hope this man or woman will understand the inalterable relationship between our future prosperity and our nation's health. We are hopeful our next president understands the urgency."
While some disagree with his approach, few can claim that President Obama doesn't understand the importance of the healthcare system or the urgent need to fix its many problems. Since assuming office he has made healthcare reform his top priority, beginning with incentives in the stimulus package to jump start electronic health record and comparative effectiveness adoption, and continuing with an unprecedented expansion of access.
Hopefully that focus will continue, because the real work is only getting started. And hopefully politics will stop being such an obstacle to solving the real problems that remain. Because contrary to the ugliness of the last year, reforming healthcare ultimately isn't about ideology or which political party wins or loses or getting all or nothing in one fell swoop.
As the best physicians will tell you when asked about the reason they got into medicine, it's about the patients. And for patients like my dad, the legislation passed this week means access to potentially life-altering medical care for the first time in their lives. For millions more, it means pre-existing conditions or losing a job no longer preclude them from the system. And it means over time, uncompensated care will fall down the list of problems that keep physicians up at night.
That really is a big deal.
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