Endangered Benefits of ‘Obama-Care’

The Affordable Care Act faces a key hurdle from the U.S. Supreme Court this month and — if it survives — more attacks from Republicans this fall, with Mitt Romney promising to kill the new law if he’s elected. Yet, despite the reform’s shortcomings, its rejection could mean suffering for millions, says Don Monkerud.

By Don Monkerud

America is beginning one of the most contentious presidential elections in history, and few issues are as fraught with vitriol and downright hatred as national healthcare. Meanwhile, other nations wonder how we can tolerate such poor healthcare at such high prices.

Of the industrialized nations, only Mexico, Turkey and the U.S. lack universal healthcare. The U.S. spends 17 percent of GDP for healthcare, yet one out of six citizens lack insurance coverage, which leads to 45,000 deaths a year, according to Harvard Medical School.

President Barack Obama signing the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. (Photo credit: Keith Ellison)

In 2011, most Americans got insurance through their employers, which cost an average of $15,000 per family. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, this cost doubled since 2001, compared to a 34 percent increase in average wages, and will double again to over $32,000 by 2021.

Let’s compare this with other countries. In 2010, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the U.S. spent $7,538 per person on healthcare, 51 percent higher than the second highest spender Norway at $5003. The average among 15 industrialized nations was $3,923.

Worse yet, the U.S. receives mediocre to poor care. In 1999, the U.S. ranked 24th in the world for life expectancy; today we rank 49th. In 1960, the U.S. ranked 12th in the world for infant mortality; today we rank 48th. For the past 20 years, we had the lowest life expectancy and more “preventable years of life lost” among the top 12 economies.

In deaths from cancer and heart attacks, we’re in the middle; in deaths from all causes, we’re the highest. While spending the most, we do a poorer job than other countries in caring for common cancers.

Americans are dissatisfied with the current healthcare system, and generally support universal healthcare by a 2 to 1 majority, the same margin that supports a government-sponsored single-payer system. Despite this support, powerful lobbies defeat every attempt by Congress to provide decent care for all citizens.

The American Medical Association is a major obstruction, and no wonder. They have so much to lose: The average physician in the U.S. earned $188,000 in 2010, while specialists such as orthopedic surgeons averaged $442,450.

When Congress debated the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010, eight lobbyists worked every legislator, and the Center for Public Integrity estimates that their salaries amounted to $1.2 billion. Despite opposition from all but one Congressional Republican, the bill passed. A bare majority of citizens supported the bill, while 76 percent of Republicans opposed it.

Passage of the bill accompanied the battering of President Obama as Republicans conjured up images of socialism, government takeovers, and denial of care. In the meantime, the Affordable Healthcare Act, the first such proposal to pass Congress in 60 years, promises to become a battleground in the upcoming presidential election.

While many liberals remain dissatisfied with the bill’s lack of a government insurance option and effective cost controls, the bill includes important reforms. It’s the first such program to extend coverage to almost all Americans, covering 32 million more than previously. Half will be insured by Medicaid, and half by the
individual mandate, the most debated part of the bill, because it forces citizens to buy insurance from for-profit companies.

The bill is far from a left-wing ploy; the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation proposed it in 1989. Ironically, it’s similar to the plan Mitt Romney adopted when he was Massachusetts governor.

The bill also prevents insurers from denying insurance for preexisting conditions, requires that companies spend up to 85 percent of premiums for medical care, compared to the current 70 percent; emphasizes preventive care; and allows parents to cover children until they’re 26. Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t fully
implement until 2014 so Americans are unable to see the benefits of healthcare reform.

In preventing any legislation favorable to Obama to pass Congress, Republicans exploited ideological fears and petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the healthcare reform bill unconstitutional. While it’s impossible to predict how the conservative court will rule, most legal experts expect the law to be upheld.

Declaring the act illegal would mean Congress doesn’t have the power to find a workable remedy to one of our most vexing national problems. The heart of the opposition revolves around forcing Americans to buy insurance. This grates on many, yet all states require drivers to buy automobile liability insurance, and forbid the sale of certain products, as well as regulating all types of behavior. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “GOP Justices Ignore the Founders.”]

Everyone needs healthcare and requiring its purchase eliminates freeloaders, since the federal government requires hospitals to provide emergency medical care to those who do not have insurance and those costs are then passed on to others. In 2008, uninsured patients cost $43 billion and ratepayers paid for it through higher premiums.

Additionally, citizens are required to pay for police and fire, even though they may not use them. In reality, under the Constitution, there is almost no limit to the regulatory power of Congress, despite conservative objections to loss of freedom.

If the conservatives win Congress and the presidency, American healthcare will be set back for another 60 years. We will lose the few advances of healthcare reform, and can look forward to worse care, higher costs, and more people going without health insurance.

Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. (Copyright 2012)

9 comments for “Endangered Benefits of ‘Obama-Care’

  1. Paul G.
    June 7, 2012 at 02:13

    “…require drivers to buy automobile liability insurance….” Driving is a privilege, if you’r irresponsible you may put someone in the hospital. Living and being healthy is a right and not a risk to others; so why should you have to pay someone’s profit to exist?
    …” required to pay for police and fire, …” Yes, but with taxes which go to a non-profit organization, your local government, whose governing board you vote for and hold public meetings at which you can confront them if necessary. You don’t vote for the directors of the private health insurer. Without the public option, which Obamascam dropped at the request of the private hospital lobby, there are no cost controls; and the system is extremely undemocratic.
    The Constitutional question is not a problem for Medicare for All, plenty of precedent.
    Combined with the AMA boo boo this article doesn’t belong on a fine site like this-sloppy research, sloppy thinking.

  2. Hillary
    June 6, 2012 at 17:20

    How depressing that the US situation is so dire.

    Perhaps the 500 TRILLION DOLLARS “Rothschild empire” could help us out ?


    • Dory in Az
      June 7, 2012 at 18:35

      no. that is earmarked for the banksters….and to buy elections….sorry

  3. FoonTheElder
    June 6, 2012 at 15:20

    The US health care system is far and away the worst in the developed world. The cost per person is now over $8,000 per year. Obamacare is just another Republican based band aid on a gaping wound. The only thing worse than Obamacare is Republicancare, our present plan.

    Republicancare wastes $1 trillion every year (310m x $3200) compared to every other developed country. What do we get for this extra trillion dollars? 25% uninsured or underinsured and 40,000 directly related deaths each year.

    Of course our ‘fiscal conservative’ politicians have no problem wasting $1 trillion, as long as it goes to the people who pay for their campaigns.

  4. June 6, 2012 at 15:08

    This column is completely incorrect regarding the AMA and the health reform law: The AMA supported the new law. We are pleased that it will extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans who live sicker and die younger, which is unacceptable in our nation. The AMA has long-standing policy in support of covering the uninsured and in favor of an individual responsibility for health insurance coverage with assistance for those who cannot afford it on their own. This allows physicians to see patients earlier, before illnesses progress, when we can help them lead healthier lives. We are continuing to work to improve the law to ensure it meets the needs of patients and the physicians who care for them. More information on the AMA and our work on the health reform law can be found at http://www.ama-assn.org.

  5. georgezgirard
    June 6, 2012 at 02:41

    Companies will be barred from instituting caps on coverage when your costs for treatments goes up due to sickness, you can now get insurance with out caps on coverage at “Penny Health” search them online.

  6. Hillary
    June 5, 2012 at 19:33

    That the U.S. with over 45,000,000 living below the poverty level doesn’t have a “universal health care system” is a disgrace.

    The AMA ,the insurance lobbies & the “rich” are successfully against it.

    The system in the U.S. is ranked no 37 in the world according to the World Health Organization.

    There again it seems that according to “the law” your body does not belong to you but to the State & Prescription Drugs Kill 300 % more americans than Illegal Drugs do ?

    • June 6, 2012 at 15:09

      The AMA supported the health reform law. The AMA has long-standing policy in support of covering the uninsured and in favor of an individual responsibility for health insurance coverage with assistance for those who cannot afford it on their own. More information on the AMA and our work on the health reform law can be found at http://www.ama-assn.org.

      • Hillary
        June 6, 2012 at 16:57

        I apologise for my mistake — I was wrong the AMA has had an about turn & now supports ” socialized medicine”.

        After fighting “socialized medicine”for so many years the venerable AMA has changed and is no longer about money but about the health of the people.

        Doesn’t the AMA represent Doctors ? and don’t both want to maintain the status quo of our broken system because it benefits Doctors financially ?

        The present attitude of the AMA may be the reason why its membership now comprises only 15% of practicing US doctors.

        BTW Doctors are not a bunch of money grubbers fearful of loosing their country club life styles as some people believe .


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