Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, every succeeding president, Republican and Democrat, has tried to bring some semblance of sanity to the archaic health care we have in America. Despite fierce opposition by the Republicans and the American Medical Association, President Lyndon Johnson succeeded in passing Medicare and Medicaid. Though a remarkable achievement, the bill addressed only the elderly and the disabled.
It was left to President Barack Obama to pass a bill that extended health coverage to millions of Americans. The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, was opposed by the Republicans, as well as the insurance carriers and pharmaceutical industry. It brought down the number of uninsured and marginally insured Americans from 40 million to 20 million.
One wondered what magic trick the Republicans had up their sleeves when they promised, during the presidential election, that they would not only repeal Obamacare but also replace it with a health care system that would provide affordable coverage to all Americans. We saw the humiliating withdrawal of the bill that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan brought to the House. Under that bill, 24 million Americans would have lost health insurance, according to estimates.
President Trump has repeatedly said that Obamacare is exploding, which it is not. However, it would explode if the Republicans, as they have promised, cut off funding for certain programs in Obamacare. One such program is paying health insurers to offer coverage with lower deductibles and out of pocket expenses to about 7 million low-income and middle-class Americans. You cut this and other programs, and Obamacare would definitely explode.
Republicans and the President are long on rhetoric but woefully short on concrete proposals.
Obamacare is not perfect, but it is better than what we have had and much better than what the Republicans have offered. Many have said that Mr. Obama should have gone further and insisted on universal health coverage.
The changing health-care landscape has been lucrative for insurance companies and drug manufacturers and not for the American people. Whenever universal health care is mentioned, the custodians of the status quo come out swinging. They call it socialized medicine and conjure up images of Communist-era health care. We all remember the “Harry and Louise” ad campaign that sabotaged President Bill Clinton’s effort to reform health care.
The United States spends almost twice as much on health care as other industrialized countries. We spend about $7,000 per person on health care annually. The next closest industrialized country, Switzerland, spends about $4,000.
Opponents say that universal health care is expensive and the country can’t afford it. Nonsense, says Amartya Sen, an Indian-born Nobel laureate in economics.
In a 2015 article in the British daily newspaper the Guardian, he shows that poor countries that have adopted universal health care have achieved striking results. Thailand started universal health care in 2001, and in a short time achieved a 74-year life expectancy for its population, up from 55 years in 1960. Thais pay the equivalent of one dollar for a visit to a doctor.
China, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Cuba, and the Indian state of Kerala are other examples of success in universal health care. They have made strides without bankrupting their economies.
We also know that Canada, Great Britain, and other European countries have effective universal health care systems.
The original Affordable Care Act was not universal health care, but it was close to it. Compromises led to the current version of Obamacare that is not comprehensive enough to cover every American. And yet Republicans are determined to repeal it, even though they have not put forward any viable alternative.
Unless we agree that health care is not a privilege but a human right, we will continue to be led through an ideological maze by the political and pharmaceutical-health insurance complex.