It was difficult for me to watch the final House vote on health care reform Sunday night. As the "yea" tally slowly but surely marched toward the necessary 216 (in the end the measure passed 219-212), I could feel a knot forming in my gut.
From my standpoint, much more was at stake than whether President Obama would score a political victory, despite the best efforts of Republicans to block it.
I happen to be among the more than 40 million Americans who lack health insurance. If I get sick or injured, I would almost certainly go into serious debt and probably have to declare bankruptcy. I can't afford the medication I need for a chronic stomach condition, so I go without. It's ridiculous.
Knowing that, I felt there was simply too much on the line for the bill to fail. But in fact, that is what's happened to most other initiatives to reform the nation's health care system. And that's what congressional Republicans uniformly wanted to see happen here.
So I am thrilled that, at last, we've passed serious reform measures to help lower health care costs and increase access. This is a historic moment, an important step forward.
It's just a start, though. More hard work needs to be done, and more fights will surely be fought. So we have to keep our eyes on the prize and remain vigilant toward the misguided opposition.
Let's start with the political opponents, like Wisconsin Reps. Paul Ryan and James Sensenbrenner. Marching in lockstep with the rest of the GOP, they worked tirelessly to ensure that the hard-working people of their districts and country would continue to get a royal screwing from insurance companies and overpriced medical care.
The best way to convince these insurance industry shills they're wrong is to kick them out of office at the next possible opportunity.
For those who don't hold public office but have been misled or cajoled into spouting falsehoods about the proposed (now impending) reforms, it will take even more work.
Holding our major media outlets to a higher standard will be part of the equation. Speaking up when someone seeks to spread misinformation is another. And always, we need to talk up the virtues of a healthier community.
That everyone should have access to affordable and quality health care should never have become a wedge issue. It baffles me that some of my fellow citizens have been so thoroughly duped by fear-mongering and false information that they now rage against their own self-interest.
There's a bittersweet quality to this long-overdue step forward. Far too many of us have lost loved ones or personally suffered as the result of nefarious insurance policies and price-gouging by drug companies and medical providers.
Had meaningful reform been passed any one of the previous times it's come before our legislators, my family might never have gone bankrupt.
My mother, you see, had the gall to get sick and spend several years in hospitals and rehabilitation centers before passing away. Our insurance company only covered so much before throwing up its hands, using both "lifetime limits" (which will be abolished under the reform bill) and cries of "preexisting condition!" (also gone) as excuses.
I remember distinctly the disgust I felt when my father explained what was happening. My college fund was gone (I'll be paying off that education well into late middle age). And my father, a pastor at a small Presbyterian church, ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. But it was not enough to save my mother.
You can understand, then, why I'm angry about the status quo. I have to hope that this legislation will be the first step toward making sure fewer people will have to go through the same sort of insult-to-injury experience.
To this end, we need to keep the pressure on. Prescription medication still costs an arm and a leg. Some of our attitudes about family-planning services are still medieval. There are still too many people who have little or no access to the services they need to be healthy or just survive. We still don't have universal care.
The health care reform bill that passed this week is a heartening development, but it's not perfect and it's not complete. I'll keep fighting if you do - for my mother, for my loved ones, for my friends and for my whole human family.
Emily Mills is a local writer and musician. She blogs at TheDailyPage.com.