Thursday, March 29, 2012

Healthcare and ideology really don't belong together

The USA never ceases to amaze me. At this moment, a political battle is playing out in the Supreme Court that essentially pits the political right against Obama's health care plan. The biggest irony is that the 'socialized medicine' against which the right is fighting so hard is based on a conservative plan, proposed in the 1990s by a conservative think tank, and subsequently adopted by at least one conservative governor (Mitt Romney) in his state.

Perhaps history will prove me wrong, but I think this will turn out to be one of the biggest miscalculations of the political right. Inasmuch as "Obamacare" is not perfect, it is a vast improvement over what existed before. It gives more Americans access to affordable health care. Those who have not had the experience of being locked out of every possible insurance plan because they suffer from chronic disease or terminal disease may not realize just how revolutionary this is. The pre-"Obamacare" trend is not sustainable, especially since America has some of the worst health indicators in the industrial world, and these are getting progressively worse. As Americans become sicker, affordable health care is going to become increasingly necessary.

If 'true American values' continue to move towards the right, as they have been doing for the past 50 or so years, then Americans will wake up in a dystopian society some decades from today. Basic health care (including vaccination, prenatal and antenatal care) will be out of reach for the average person. Perhaps only 10% of the population will have access to fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products. The rest will have to make do on heavily-sugared and salted food products. It sounds very much like the USA is trending towards "third world" status. Those of us from the "third world" who have seen what zero access to affordable health care for the majority of the population means in practical terms know that there's nothing ideal about it. The strangest thing of all is that the American public will have voluntarily taken itself in that direction  because of its ideological investments.

I think the political right would have done better to embrace "Obamacare" as their original idea. After all, it did grow out of a conservative vision for expanded health care coverage. By contrast, a vision originated by the political left would have pushed private insurance companies out of the market and replaced them with a single insurer: the government. Seen from this perspective, many on the left could (and do) argue that "Obamacare" is too huge a compromise by the Obama administration to the right.

If the right had taken credit for "Obamacare" they would have had a more coherent platform to run on. They would have been able to paint "Romneycare," not as a blemish on Romney's record, but as a superior plan to "Obamacare." I have to wonder what lies ahead for American politics and American health care.

The best-thought out piece I have read on the American health care system lately comes from Fareed Zakaria: "Health insurance is for everyone". Its valuable for its comparative assessment of health care and insurance in different national contexts. David Paul's piece on the Supreme Court and the insurance mandate is also a good read.

This work is licensed to Rose Kahendi under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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