The Affordable Care Act (ACA), the significant but flawed first attempt at broadening America’s health-care system, recently released figures for next year — premiums for many of the plans are rising by an average of 25%. And with that rise, more people are becoming disaffected with the program, perhaps spelling an eventual demise to the whole idea that we can reform our health-care system in this country. And that, to me, is a tremendous tragedy.
The formation and implementation of the ACA occurred during perhaps the most rancorous, contentious time in our country’s recent political history (and it’s not getting any better). The term “obstructionism” doesn’t even begin to describe the relationships between the parties and between the individuals we have sent to Congress to represent us. Compromise and collaboration have becomes signs of weakness in a political climate that makes the average second grade classroom look mature by comparison. That is what the ACA was born into; THAT is the group that was supposed to make the biggest overhaul of our health-care system in decades actually WORK. But that group can’t even approve funding to fix our roads or bridges, and we’re lucky every time they begrudgingly approve a last-minute bill to avoid throwing the country into default. The point is the ACA never had a chance! It was such a politically charged item that any attempt to correct it, address issues within it, or make changes that might actually make it better could never even happen. The failure of the ACA lies on ALL of Congress, not just the president. It is a glaring example of our inability to come together for common good.
And when all is said and done, who gets left out? We do. That’s right, those of us with preexisting conditions; those of us the insurance companies wish would simply disappear; those of us who have been at the mercy of entire DEPARTMENTS WITHIN INSURANCE COMPANIES that try to find any technical loophole to deny us coverage and drop us from their rolls; WE are the ones left out in the cold. When the premiums rise in the exchanges? We pay the price as we struggle like crazy to keep up with prescription co-pays (that’s right, insulin ain’t cheap, and we can’t exactly go without it!). WE pay the price as we downgrade the level of our own care to make ends meet; when we forgo using a pump because the coverage for durable medical goods is so poor we could never afford the co-pays.
But a return to the old system is no better. In the old system, insurance companies could simply flat-out deny us coverage. Anyone who wasn’t receiving insurance through his job had very little choice (and that’s a LOT of people, particularly in this day and age where the old career model of one job for 40 years is dying out, leaving many without the quality benefits that used to come with most career paths). I remember my mother, who teaches college, telling me about a student of hers with diabetes who was too old for her parents’ coverage, and without access to any group plans. She couldn’t get an individual plan — insurance companies would simply deny her. Paying full price for it, she was using a single vial of insulin for three to four months. She was simply starving herself, eating almost nothing, and giving herself insufficient insulin EVEN FOR THE SMALL AMOUNT OF FOOD SHE CONSUMED.
And so as I watch the ACA crumble, and I watch members of the GOP gloat in their “victory” over it, and I watch desperate Democrats try to defend its many flaws, and I hear the same old obstructionist bickering, I find myself angry. I’m angry that something as vital as health care, something that SHOULD be a common goal — getting all Americans access to health care — becomes a victim of a political climate that is so toxic, uncaring, and selfish that the debate over health care in our country is NOT about how we can make it work for everyone; it’s NOT about how we can come together and fix what’s wrong with the ACA; it’s NOT about collaborating and working side-by-side to figure out how to make universal access a reality. No, it’s just about which side “wins.” And who loses? We do.