Sunday 8 November 2009
Early morning in Philadelphia. From my hotel room I watch the sun rising over the Delaware River.
Yesterday I saw a different sun rising – a motif carved on the back of the chair in which George Washington presided over the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America after months of wrangling in 1787. At the time, Benjamin Franklin, sage and polymath, whose knowing presence is everywhere here in historic Philadelphia, observed, ‘now, at length, I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.’
Yesterday I switched on the TV during an ad break. First up was one of the interminable screamers from the NO lobby in the great healthcare reform debate. What about the $800 billion bill? All those inflated taxes? Can they guarantee you can keep your own doctor? Your current insurance company? Can they promise healthcare won’t be rationed? Persuade your congress representative to vote NO for the Public Option.
Then in quick succession: an ad for the statin Crestor to control your cholesterol – ‘if you have difficulty paying for medication, Astra-Zeneca may be able to help;’ and Reddi-Wip real ready-whip cream – dessert just isn’t dessert without Reddi-Wip.
Today I switched on the TV and everything has changed. The House of Representatives has passed its sweeping healthcare reform bill by a narrow margin – 220 votes to 215. Although it still has a few hoops to jump through before it becomes law, the way is now paved for the biggest extension of healthcare insurance coverage since the introduction of Medicare 40 years ago. The vast majority of the 46 million Americans without insurance will, by law, have to be covered. The federal government will offer its subsidised insurance scheme (the Public Option) in competition with the established health insurers. Radical change will happen through a largely market-driven shakedown within a framework set by government.
Later today I will be attending the Grand Opening of the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association – a colloqium several thousand strong, held this year in Philadelphia’s magnificent convention centre which, rather like Manchester’s, was once a busy railway terminus.
You can guarantee the place will be abuzz with talk of the healthcare vote. The atmosphere will be electric. It will light up the whole conference. I doubt there’ll be a soul there who isn’t absolutely thrilled at the prospect of such a huge change to US healthcare. It is truly momentous.
Barack Obama’s powerful pre-vote speech invoked the call of history – rather in the same vein as the ringing statements of the Founding Fathers here in Philadelphia. And, fingers crossed, it seems to have been answered. As Ben Franklin might have said, methinks the sun, at long last, shows promising signs of rising.