A Non-Professional’s Look at Obamacare, Democrats and Republicans

Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, according to Rick North, who’s convinced Obamacare is on the right path

OPINION -- I’m not a physician, nurse or healthcare worker, but I have definite opinions on Obamacare. Here’s my take:

The short version: Half a loaf is better than none.

The almost-as-short version: Obamacare, while hardly perfect, is helping millions of people right now and is a step toward where we really need to be - universal healthcare (Medicare for All).

The full scoop:

We have a relative who lives in South Carolina. She’s in her 50’s, single, and works full-time as a waitress.

For years, she had no health insurance. The restaurant didn’t offer it and she couldn’t afford an individual policy, which would have cost her about $4,000 a year. She’s had several medical problems, such as high blood pressure, lupus and a thyroid condition. Because she couldn’t afford the drugs, she often went without them.

Last year, while using a weed-whacker, she accidentally injured her foot. She tried to treat herself first, but it became infected. She went to a doctor at a local care facility, spending hundreds of dollars she could ill afford, but the foot wasn’t getting better, and she needed to see a specialist. The emergency room was looking like her last resort.

Then . . . along came Obamacare. She signed up and is now insured – for $25 a month.  She can finally afford to get the medications she needs and is seeing a specialist to treat her foot, which had incurred a serious staph infection.

She was no Obama fan before this, but she is now: “He was thinking of us uninsured people.”

We all know how thoroughly the Obama administration botched up the website roll-out of the plan. We also know how completely Oregon bungled its Cover Oregon website, which still isn’t functioning.

And I’ll always be disappointed in Obama for caving in to the health insurance companies right from the start, refusing to even discuss a Medicare for All plan. I certainly understand the intransigence of the Republicans, and what a long shot that scenario was, but Obama wouldn’t even consider a public option as a second choice. 

But the Obamacare website has been fixed, and millions of people have health insurance that didn’t have it before, either through the exchange or expanded Medicaid. Young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they’re 26. You can’t be denied because of a pre-existing condition. And you can’t be thrown off your plans because you get too sick. Oregon alone has over 200,000 newly-enrolled residents. These are huge accomplishments.

There are obviously shortcomings to Obamacare, primarily its reliance on for-profit companies, which prioritize profits over everything else, driving up costs. Moreover, some people have to pay more for similar coverage to what they had before. I can understand why they wouldn’t be happy.

But I’ve seen few laws 100% beneficial for everyone. My rule of thumb for the merit of a policy is this: What action does the most good for the largest number of people? Based on that, I think Obamacare is a big step forward.

There seems to be a major philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans on healthcare. Most Democrats want guaranteed universal healthcare, the same as people enjoy in most other industrialized nations of the world. With Republicans, not so much, and this is part of an ideological divide. The D’s have more of a “We’re in this together” stance while the R’s are in the “You’re on your own” camp.

As for most Republicans in Congress, they REALLY don’t give a hoot whether all people have care or not. I haven’t seen anyone capture the essence of Obamacare’s politics better than Tom Tomorrow, creator of the hilarious “This Modern World.” Check out the cartoons of November 18 and 25 at Tomorrow's site and you’ll see what I mean.

For the 2014 elections, Congressional Republicans are stuck. They desperately want Obamacare to fail, and it won’t (see Paul Krugman’s latest column). They’ve done everything they could to stop it, including a creepy ad campaign encouraging young people not to sign up. This political strategy makes as much sense as smashing yourself in the foot with a weed whacker – incredibly, with the R’s, it’s intentional. 

Meanwhile, tiny-but-mighty Vermont is on track to institute single-payer universal healthcare by 2017. Here in Oregon, legislators Michael Dembrow, Chip Shields and Jennifer Williamson, working with groups like Health Care for ALL Oregon and Physicians for a National Health Program, introduced a bill last year to put Oregon on a similar path. Other states also have champions that recognize the simple wisdom that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.

That’s the hopeful thing about common sense. No matter how many obstacles are put in its way, it keeps springing up like grass through cracks in a sidewalk. No weeds here.

Rick North has over 30 years experience in non-profit management, primarily in public health and the environment. Much of his career was with the American Cancer Society, where he served 21 years, the last five as the executive vice president (director) of the Oregon chapter from 1993-98. Before he retired in 2011, he served over seven years as the founder and project director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign For Safe Food.

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Rick, the marketplace will fail to deliver. It is a stop-gap that funnels more money to insurance companies and PhRMA on the taxpayer dime. This will unfold as those who are getting insured through the cheapest plans find that the so-called "out-of-pocket maximum" doesn't apply to out-of-network care. And as McKinsey & Co. have found, the cheapest plans have the most limited networks. http://capsules.kaiserhealthnews.org/index.php/2013/12/marketplace-plans... Then there's all the "preventive" care that's free. When you go in for your annual exam, don't complain of a mild cough or hemorrhoids or a headache... or anything for which you could get unwanted diagnostic testing, treatment and billing. If you think that your mammogram or colonoscopy is free if you have had a benign lesion in the past, think again. Requiring radiologists give notice to women who have dense breasts does nothing to improve detection; but the "free" mammogram will likely lead to MRIs and ultrasound of the breast--which aren't free! http://capitolwords.org/date/2014/01/14/E63-4_breast-density-and-mammogr... Yes, Rick, we need single payer. But with Obamacare and ERISA, we are swimming against the current.