Meaningful health care reform that will provide comprehensive, quality coverage to people with HIV has been and will continue to be a top priority for Project Inform. In early 2009, the Obama Administration led the way, prioritizing health care reform as critical to ensuring both the health of Americans and supporting economic recovery. Extensive and contentious debate took place in Congress, resulting in several bills in both the House and Senate by mid-year.
Project Inform's policy team was actively engaged in efforts to monitor the bills and advocate with Congressional leaders to ensure that the needs of those living with and at risk for HIV were addressed in legislative proposals. Working in coalition with the HIV Health Care Access Working Group, we focused on ensuring that reform proposals addressed access to high-quality, affordable care, treatment, and prevention. The working group developed a 2009 Health Care Reform Policy Platform, outlining key priorities for the HIV community. We also advocated on provisions in the bill as they were brought forward, sent letters regarding priorities for the HIV community to committee members as they developed bills, and met with key members of Congress.
Mobilizing people living with HIV and their allies in the fight for quality health care reform was an important part of our efforts. To ensure the voices of people living with and at risk for HIV and advocates were included in the health care reform debate, Project Inform convened regular HIV Community Health Care Reform Conference Calls. These included updates on Congressional health care reform activities and provided an opportunity for broader community input into priority issues and legislative strategy. We worked with our partners to disseminate frequent Action Alerts providing updates on legislation and opportunities to participate in the debate by signing on to important letters and contacting elected officials and the Administration.
In late August 2009, prospects for health care reform were dealt a blow with the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, one of Congress' most powerful proponents of health care reform. Senator Kennedy's death came at the end of a Congressional recess filled with vitriolic disruptions of district town hall meetings, staged by opponents to health care reform aimed at preventing thoughtful discussion of reform, scaring Americans, and politicizing the debate. Project Inform and our partners responded with a sign-on letter to President Obama strongly supporting the need for health care reform and outlining the components most important for people living with and at risk for HIV. Over 1,000 people and organizations signed on to the letter -- one of the strongest responses from the community in years.
By December 2009, the Senate and House had each passed health care reform legislation and negotiations began to create a final bill. Although both bills included provisions important for people living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS, the House bill was much stronger in most areas. As negotiations continued, it appeared that some provisions from both bills would appear in the final bill. However, the process stalled once again when the special election for the late Senator Kennedy's seat was won by a Republican, causing the Democrats to lose the 60 votes necessary to stop a filibuster (preventing a vote) in the Senate.
There is, however, still strong hope for meaningful reform. There are mechanisms by which the bill can pass both houses. The President and Congressional leaders who have spent months working on the effort remain committed to delivering health care reform now. Senator Al Franken said at a recent conference, "We can't walk away from the health care reform empty-handed and we won't." And Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated, "We'll go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we'll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole vault in. If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in. But we're going to get health care reform passed for the American people."
It is essential, however, that we continue our efforts to demand that our Congressional leaders pass a health care reform bill. If this effort stalls or fails, the likelihood of meaningful reform during the first term of the Obama presidency decreases dramatically. Advocates in the broader health care reform community as well as Project Inform and our partners have rallied to urge Congress to pass this reform. Once the bill passes, there will be a tremendous amount of work, much of which may fall to the state level, to monitor implementation in order to ensure that people living with and at risk for HIV get the health care they need to live healthy lives.
Updates on health care reform and recommended community actions can be found on Project Inform's website.