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Hope and Change, Delivered

Make no mistake about it: Change has come to America. When President Obama signed the health-care bill into law, our country came one step closer to a more perfect union—one step closer to the ideals of equal opportunity and social justice. This bill is our victory—not as Democrats, but as students. When our campus voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in November of 2008, we voted for hope, and we voted for change. Now, more than ever, there is cause for both.

Talking to voters in the last election cycle, our members heard tragic stories about the damage caused by a broken system. From New Hampshire to Florida, from Pennsylvania to Colorado, we met Americans of all ages who didn’t have health insurance, or who couldn’t afford the coverage they had. There were too many mothers who feared that their child’s medical condition would force them into bankruptcy. There were too many fathers who worried about what would happen to their coverage when they lost their job in a failing economy. And there were too many students who were concerned about their future—who did not know if they would be able to afford health insurance once they graduated. The health-care bill was a victory for all of the above.

Without a doubt, the bill’s immediate effects are especially significant for young Americans. Last week, in compliance with the new law, insurance companies announced their intention to eliminate restrictions on children 18 and under with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma. In addition, coverage for more than seven million children in low-income families who receive health-care from the Children’s Health Insurance Program will be shielded until 2019 from the fiscal pressures facing state governments.

And what if you, your siblings, parents, or friends fall ill? Before this reform, parents’ insurance plans could deny coverage to dependent children after their 18th birthday. Now, parental plans cover children until they turn 26. Before this reform, some healthcare policies allowed insurance companies to discontinue coverage for sick patients. Some plans even capped the amount companies would pay for your medical expenses. Two weeks ago, these practices were effectively brought to an end. Under this bill, even adults with pre-existing conditions will be eligible to join a high-risk coverage pool funded by the government. Considering that 45,000 Americans die every year because they lack affordable health care, it is hard to overstate the significance of this bill for millions of families across this country. This bill will quite literally save lives.

Yet the bill that President Obama signed into law has implications for you beyond the health sector. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act—an addition to the healthcare bill—enables students to receive loans directly from the federal government. This will cut out the middleman, providing a savings of $61 billion over 10 years and vastly improving student life. These provisions will allocate more resources to students eligible for Pell Grant scholarships and to universities nationwide. In short, higher education has become more accessible and more affordable for millions of Americans.

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Taken together, reform of the healthcare system and the expansion of student aid are two major strides towards establishing a more equitable society. For students especially, this bill will grant new opportunities and eliminate unjust barriers to success. All Americans should be able to afford a college education; all Americans should be protected against medical catastrophe. It’s just that simple.

Of course, we’re not there yet. In terms of health care specifically, the passage of this bill represents not the conclusion, but the beginning of a lengthy process to provide high quality care and eliminate wasteful spending. Yet after decades of failed attempts to fix this critical institution, our political system has proven itself capable of contending with complex issues—even in the face of diverging interests. Now, we must bring that system to bear on the next big issue of our time—whether it be financial reform, immigration, or climate change. It is our responsibility as students to continue to elect motivated representatives who are passionate about progressive change—who will fight for our values and our ideals in our nation’s capital.  While the march toward progress is often slow and frustrating, the American government—with the active participation of its constituents—can and will create a better tomorrow.

Jason Q. Berkenfed ’11 is a history and science concentrator in Quincy House and is president of the Harvard College Democrats. Lindsay M. Garber ’11 is a government concentrator in Quincy House and is vice-president of the HCD. Lange P. Luntao ’12 is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House and is communications director of the HCD. This piece was written on behalf of the Harvard College Democrats.

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