Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obamacare -- A Step in the Right Direction

When the law now commonly referred to as “Obamacare” was first debated more than two years ago, I was strongly opposed to it. I rejected as a matter of principle the idea of government involvement in healthcare. I did not think that the government could do anything to help the problems our country faces regarding affordability and availability of medical care to all. On the day the law passed Congress and was signed by President Obama I was attending a business meeting in England. An English colleague rejoiced at the news, while I expressed serious reservations and disappointment. She saw it as a small victory that our country finally took a step to providing medical coverage for all its citizens. After all, we were the one remaining major industrialized country that still did not do this. By European standards the healthcare situation in the United States was simply barbaric. Sure, they recognized that we have some of the best quality healthcare in the world, but for significant portions of our population this remained inaccessible due to costs. At the time I acknowledged the problems she pointed out but argued that Obamacare and government involvement in healthcare did not offer a helpful solution.

Today, when the Supreme Court upheld the healthcare act, I rejoiced. This obvious contradiction can be explained by the shift in my own viewpoint over the last couple years. This shift comes from my frustrations with skyrocketing healthcare costs and the lack of any other realistic proposal to begin addressing them. It comes also from my growing awareness of the growing number of people who either have no healthcare insurance or whose insurance premiums and costs are increasingly burdensome. My family would be in the latter category. Thankfully we do have health insurance, but each year our premiums climb and I can only mitigate that climb by continuing to increase our annual deductible. Our health insurance premium alone takes a serious bite out of our pay each month and there is not a thing I can do to reduce it. Even with that insurance available to us we avoid going to the doctor unless we really have to because the deductible costs us so much. But again, we are fortunate in that we at least have some type of coverage.

I recognize now that enacting this law is a matter of justice. It is a matter of making sure that the most disadvantaged members of our society do not fall through the cracks. Those opposed to Obamacare will raise all sorts of arguments against it. They will rail against the growing infringement of government on our lives. They will discuss the political impact and a multitude of other issues. But as this article from Sojourners points out, for believers these shouldn't be the main issues. As Jim Wallis, the author of the article states:

“Our bottom line is different. We don't start with politics, but rather with how these decisions affect real people.”

As God's people we should be raising our voices in defense of those who are left behind by our economic system. We should be looking after those in need. We should not leave them at the mercy of an impersonal market economy. The market economy, despite its strong advocates in the conservative political ranks, is not going to solve the healthcare problems we face. The market economy doesn't look out for the outcasts of society. It chews them up, tramples them down and grinds them to dust. We should be doing all we can to counteract that. It's not a perfect solution by any means, but this healthcare act takes us a step in the right direction.

I am not familiar with all the provisions of the act but from what I understand, as someone who already has insurance, the impact on me will be minimal. In fact it may be positive, if it can begin to reign in rising costs. I am pleased by many provisions of the act such as those described in this chart.

I no longer share the fear of the government compelling us to buy health insurance. In fact I do not understand why we tolerate requirements to purchase insurance for our vehicles but vehemently resist any suggestion that we be required to carry insurance for our health. Where are our priorities?

I'm open to changes and improvements in this law, but I think that lobbying for its repeal would be a huge step backward. I would love to hear some meaningful proposals from those who oppose this act. I don't consider healthcare savings accounts to be a viable option, because they require that you actually have money to invest in them in the first place. Even if I were freed entirely from my monthly insurance premiums and put that entire amount in an HSA, an unlikely possibility, I could easily be bankrupted by a serious medical problem. So if you oppose Obamacare, bring some real suggestions to the table, suggestions that look out for the most needy and disadvantaged in our society. I'd love to hear some suggestions that see medical care as something other than a for-profit business. But I suppose that in suggesting this I mark myself already as radical. I'm okay with that, because I think we need some radical new ideas. I don't think Obamacare is the final solution, but I do believe that it is a step in the right direction.

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