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National Editorials & Columns

America turns the corner on health care

Tuesday was a historic day in America.

Because too many Republicans in the U.S. House have lost touch with reality, the nation is in the midst of a government shutdown that could create an economic meltdown. That’s irresponsible on an epic scale, but not historic.

Tuesday will be remembered for generations because for the first time in the nation’s grand history, health care is a right.

One could argue that Thomas Jefferson always meant it to be that way. Here’s what he and other founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For much of our nation’s history, including and up to the last day of September 2013, those courageous and simple sentiments were not manifested in public policy.

America’s poor, even many of them who work for a living, were not equal, not when it came to health insurance. America’s sick, such as those with cancer and other ailments determined by insurance companies to be “pre-existing conditions,” didn’t have the same access to health care insurance.

That made health care a privilege, not a right.

It’s hard to pursue life, or happiness, without the ability to go to a doctor.

In fact, a study by scientists at Harvard Medical School proves it so. In 2009, researchers determined that a lack of health insurance contributes to 45,000 deaths a year in the U.S. Those are 45,000 people who cannot fulfill the founders’ ideals because some Republicans have decided insurance company profits are more important that the nation’s well-being.

We have referenced that Harvard study several times on these pages because behind all the smoke and mirrors of the national political debate over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, this is what it comes down to: life or death.

More people having health insurance means fewer unnecessary deaths. That’s good public policy.

Today, between 300,000 and 500,000 Missourians (depending on who is doing the figuring) can join millions of Americans who will have an opportunity over the next six months to obtain access to the health care they need. Their lives will be improved. Some lives will be saved. Yes, that’s historic.

The numbers should be even higher. There are 877,000 uninsured Missourians, but Republicans in the Legislature have callously refused to make many of them eligible for insurance they could obtain if they lived in Illinois or a majority of other states.

Every glitch will be magnified by a Republican Party with nothing better to do than sabotage the nation’s government, refuse to pay its bills and stand in the way of, well, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the meantime, though, there is hope.

As of Tuesday, the exchanges are there. People need insurance.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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