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What change looks like - Joel Hall

It's been a long road, but more than a year after being promised change we could believe in, we have finally witnessed change that is undeniable.

On Sunday, after half a day of debate, the U.S. House of Representatives passed health-care reform by a vote of 219 to 212.

I'm sure that, this week, a lot of people will have different opinions about what that change looks like.

To some, the passage of this bill will look like America's head-first plunge into becoming a hammer-and-sickle-waiving Communist nation. This week, I'm almost certain there will be a slight upturn in the sales of gold and bullets, and some people will run out and buy that "survival seed bank" they've always wanted in preparation for the apocalypse.

Inevitably, Glenn Beck will cry.

This will probably also ruffle the feathers of a lot of groups with hidden, or open, agendas against the poor, minorities, the government, or all of the above. The Southern Poverty Law Center will have its hands full keeping up with all of the garbage that floats to the surface in the next few months.

However, to a lot of people, this is a huge victory, particularly people who have been denied access to health care, either by poverty or unemployment. According to the White House, 1.7 million residents in the state of Georgia, who are currently uninsured, and 387,000 residents who have non-group insurance, will get affordable insurance through cross-state competition.

Putting more people on the insurance rolls could do wonders for community hospitals in Georgia, which lose thousands in annual revenue from treating poor, uninsured individuals who end up at the emergency room after putting off preventative health care.

Hospitals can't turn people away at the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay. If more of those people could see a primary care doctor before things got out of hand, the hospitals would have to spend less money treating patients who are on their last leg.

The less publicized, but equally important part of the passage of the president's health-care bill is that it includes the passage of a dramatic overhaul of federal student loan programs.

Bundled along with the health-care bill was legislation to redirect billions of dollars toward the Pell grant program, which helps as many as 8 million of the poorest students in the country pay for college each year. Rather than getting caught up in a repetitive system of under-achievement, many kids whose parents don't have access to long lines of generational wealth will have the chance to make something better of themselves.

There are a lot of things that can be said about the way that we got here. It has been an ugly process, from start to finish, exposing some of America's most deeply-rooted problems and prejudices.

Despite the process, however, we are here. We will ultimately determine what this change means.

It will be up to us, as Americans, to take better care of ourselves, so we don't overburden this new system we have created. It will also be up to students to take advantage of these financial changes, so that we can have more people in the country dedicated to making it better.

If this bill can help bring some of those things to fruition, then, regardless of what side of the fence one is on, we will all have something to celebrate.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.