When I began a series of commentaries in 2009 about national health care issues, I left the pending Affordable Care Act for later examination. Now it's time to consider what it will do for Americans.
The past two weeks put Obamacare into round-the-clock breaking news. Probably the most contentious event was the marathon effort by a small ultra-conservative group of Republicans to shut down the federal government. Repeal of major elements of the Affordable Care Act was the tool they used to stall approval of a fiscal bill to keep the government running.
And there was the marathon oratory by a small group of conservatives bent on killing Obamacare. Sen. Ted Cruz held the Senate hostage with a 21-hour faux filibuster attempting to prevent a vote on the critical bill to keep the government running after Oct. 1.
During those critical days, TV and print media were in a frenzy, interviewing government officials for and against the Affordable Care Act. I was vacationing in the remote woods of Maine while the deadline to keep the government running wound down to an impasse.
I especially missed the unbiased news coverage of public radio and television not available in the faraway area where broadcast channels preferred sound bites of political turmoil to just reporting the news.
The topic was so exploited that I predict Obamacare will be selected as the most overused word for 2013. I previously nominated sequestration as the word of the year, but its frequency in mediaspeak is fading.
What I observed mostly on CNN, besides the ranting of Cruz, was the barrage of commercials claiming how Obamacare would bankrupt the nation and cause other sinister problems. Who sponsored these endless assaults? I suspect it was some well-financed industry that opposes universal coverage and preventative health care.
At the same time as the commercial blitz, interviews showed congressmen expressing their deep concerns or outright criticism about reforming health care. What industry opposed to change contributes substantial campaign funds to elected officials who are beholden to their patrons?
You need not look further than the insurance industry that opposes any effort to improve the delivery of health care at affordable rates to all Americans. The whole world knows that the United States spends more on health care with less satisfactory results than even many underdeveloped countries. In fact, a survey ranked the United States as 37th, just behind Morocco, in delivery of medical services at affordable cost.
Experts have reported for years that hospitals are burdened with inefficiencies and insurance companies operate with too much paper-shuffling that wastes money better spent on medical services.
By the end of the frantic week, the Senate passed a fiscal bill to keep the federal government open for business despite Republican efforts to derail the new health insurance program. The bill restored funding for the Affordable Care Act but needed Republican consensus in the House, a difficult action to predict, to keep the government operating.
Thomas Freidman wrote in The New York Times that the tea party faction is not interested in legislating any of the big issues — immigration, gun control, health care, debt and taxes. “This kind of madness helped to produce the idiotic sequester,” he concluded.
A recent poll quoted in The Economist showed that 44 percent of Americans thought the Affordable Care Act had been overturned and even more did not know what it was. Several political cartoons used this ignorance as a lampoon showing a man-the-street interview condemning Obamacare but praising the Affordable Care Act when given the two questions.
Overhauling America’s $2.7 trillion (that’s with a “t”) health industry is no easy matter. Nearly one in seven citizens is uninsured. The United States spends 18 percent of GPD compared to Britain, Sweden and Norway, to name a few, that spend half as much, the news magazine reports.
At press time the congressional-presidential gridlock continues by adding the threat of even more impasse over extending the federal debt limit coming up next week. The Economist reported that Obamacare may be judged as a success as the catalyst to transform the world’s most dysfunctional health care system for the better. Unfortunately, not everyone is attuned to the biggest shake-up since Medicare and Medicaid.
Maybe my seclusion during that week among the lakes and loons of Maine gave me a better perspective of political tactics. The simple life among country folk created a clearer impression of how Americans really want to be governed. It doesn’t resemble what is going on in the nation’s capital.
Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org