Healthcare reform is one of the most contentious issues in American politics, and for good reason. The current American healthcare system is broken, and while the reforms presented in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction.
The most important element of healthcare reform is ensuring that all Americans, regardless of economic or social status, have access to quality healthcare. Healthcare in the United States should be a right, not a privilege. As the wealthiest country (based on GDP) in the world, the United States’ failure to provide health insurance to all of its citizens is embarrassing. Tens of millions of Americans are essentially denied access to a sufficient level of care because of their inability to purchase insurance. This is unacceptable.
In order to ensure that all Americans have access to adequate care, the government must assist those who cannot afford to buy health insurance. It’s impossible to have a sufficient level of healthcare in the United States without insurance — the emergency room is an option for conditions that require immediate treatment, but without a primary care physician, one’s care is severely compromised.
The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey estimates that about 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. For these people, a suspicious lump that ought to be examined or a case of the flu that continues to worsen may be financially or personally ruinous. The United States has the ability and the subsequent obligation to protect these 40 million individuals by making healthcare available to all of its citizens. Healthcare is not only a matter of public policy; it is a matter of justice.
In 2003, a woman named Shirley Loewe checked in to the Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, Texas, because she felt a lump in her breast. She did not have health insurance because she could not afford it, nor was it available through her employer. Though several hospitals nationwide receive funding from a federal cancer program, GSMC was not one of the lucky few and therefore could not support Ms. Leowe. This incident marked the beginning of her battles with insurance companies and myriad healthcare regulations until her death in 2007.
While the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has its flaws, it is ultimately a good first step toward reforming the United States’ healthcare system. It does well in providing health insurance to nearly all Americans while beginning the process of substantive modification.
Most importantly, the act addresses the rising cost of medical care while reducing the budget deficit. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the healthcare legislation will reduce the federal budget deficit by $149 billion between 2010 and 2019. In contrast, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that enacting the Republican response to the Affordable Care Act, the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, would increase the budget deficit by $210 billion over the 2012-2021 period. Healthcare reform in its current shape is therefore not only beneficial; it is essential to maintaining a fiscally responsible policy in a time of rising budget deficits.
There are two crucial aspects of the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate and the inability of insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Without the individual mandate, health insurance companies won’t have a large enough pool of healthy people to support the claims they must pay to those who are sick, and they will consequently not survive. In addition, allowing companies to deny claims because of pre-existing conditions prevents individuals from obtaining care at the exact time when they need it most.
As long as the government maintains these two aspects of the Act, the possibility of providing healthcare for all citizens remains an attainable one. Combining these two elements will also enable the government to better manage the cost of healthcare, improving efficiency and further streamlining the system.
Healthcare reform is necessary in order to remedy the tremendous injustices that result from many Americans’ lack of access to proper medical treatment. The current political atmosphere presents an opportunity to make the United States’ healthcare system affordable and accessible to all citizens — a worthy goal for the wealthiest country in the world.
Daniel Healy is a sophomore in the College.