What’s left is a hard question. Should the United States ensure all its citizens have access to affordable and quality health insurance? Asked more simply, is health care a basic human right?
The United States is the outlier. It has a patchwork system where some preferred groups receive government-created health care — the very poor, senior citizens, veterans — while the rest of us are left to make do in a cruel marketplace where for-profit insurance companies play the role of giant, sometimes cruel, other times mysterious and always to be feared.
Our global neighbors in the industrialized world have answered yes. Yes, it benefits a nation’s economy, population, sense of well-being, average lifespan and other factors to have universal health coverage. Getting there is not achieved by a one-size-fits-all oppressive government, despite what the Tea Partiers would have us believe. Germany, for instance, has established a baseline for what insurance companies must cover for all citizens. Hundreds of nonprofit health insurers compete to cover Germans. Death panels are as fictional there as they are here.
Like many of his presidential predecessors, Barack Obama walked into the White House with a plan to reform the nation’s health-care system with its uninsured Americans, confusing web of payment schedules and economic hazards.
What was finally hatched was the 2010 Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, known as “Obamacare” to some. It’s an example of the worst of Washington compromises, one full of half-measures and timid plans when what’s called for is boldness in the face of an incoming health-care tsunami.
Still, Obamacare and its individual mandate possess the power to bring the nation forward in how it looks after the well-being of all its citizens.
Despite the fact that the individual mandate was birthed 20 years ago in a Washington right-wing think-tank and implemented by a Republican governor of Massachusetts, Republicans have fired every weapon they have at Obama’s health-care reform.
Republican officeholders in Alabama (along with dozens of other states) went straight to federal court to kill Obamacare before it can be fully implemented. We live in outrageous times when a poor state heads to court to take away health insurance from the 16 percent of its residents without it. Anything and everything in the service of derailing Obama and Democrats is the order of the day for conservative Republicans. The Supreme Court will rule soon on the constitutionality of Obamacare.
Despite the flaws of the 2010 Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, it is a serious attempt at getting the nation closer to universal coverage.
As The Star reported Tuesday, Regional Medical Center expects to lose about $60 million providing care to uninsured patients. “We’re getting killed here … and the uninsured keeps growing,” RMC CEO David McCormack said. “If everyone can pay something, that’ll help.”
McCormack has identified the central issue: Providing a basic level of health coverage for all Americans. Without universal coverage, hospitals and doctors eat unpaid bills. Patients risk bankruptcy for no reason other than getting sick and running up medical costs that are beyond their ability to pay. We are all caught in a trap carefully monitored by Washington politicians and the deep-pocketed insurance companies that keep them in office.
“No matter what, we’ve still got to care for the sick,” McCormack told The Star.
So true. Without reforms, however, we’ll do it in costly and inefficient ways that have the power to drag down the nation’s economy.
If the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare, a question will remain for Alabama’s so-called proud conservatives as they complete a victory lap. An estimated 700,000 Alabamians lack health care and countless others are teetering on the brink in our weak economy. Will we find a way to cover them? Or will they and their illnesses be left to the wolves of a free-market health-care system?