The politicization of healthcare reform has the potential to do great harm to this country. Casually using derogatory language to link healthcare reform to a certain political party only trivializes and diminishes the importance of healthcare, one of the most important issues this country faces. By using a combination of vitriol and misinformation, the Republican Party has succeeded to demonize healthcare reform so much that it may very well become the most decisive factor in the upcoming Presidential election.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed into law in March 2010 by President Barack Obama, owes much of its existence to the Massachusetts Health Care Insurance Reform law enacted by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in April 2006. Some aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (ACA) went into effect the minute the act was signed into law. Thanks to President Obama (with a little help and support from his would be opponent this November), 30 million Americans now have access to healthcare services that they did not previously have. Private insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. Like the Massachusetts healthcare law, the ACA allows children to remain on their parents insurance until age 26, rather than being taken off at age 19, a few years older if the child is a full time student. Another edict both laws have in common, and where almost all of the objection to this law stems from, is the mandate for every individual to purchase some basic form of healthcare insurance.
The Massachusetts healthcare law has been wildly successful. In December 2010 a study conducted by the Urban Institute stated that 98% of state residents have health insurance coverage. The Massachusetts mandate insists that those who are able to afford health insurance, whether one is unemployed, underemployed or self-employed, purchase it from a private insurance company. Low-income residents qualify for state subsidized Commonwealth Care, a program offering free health services to those most in financial need. The ACA also mandates that those individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance do so or pay a penalty, but there are some exceptions to this rule. One may be exempt if one can prove financial hardship. Another way one may opt out of the individual mandate if they feel healthcare insurance undermines their religious beliefs. Unlike the ACA, the Massachusetts healthcare law does not exempt those because of their ideology.
The reasons why Republicans are rooting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act vary. Some protest that mandating that everyone purchase health insurance is unconstitutional and feel that this is a state issue rather than a national issue. Others question how the government plans to pay for it and worry that private health insurance costs will soar as a result of the individual mandate coming into effect in 2014. Some oppose the ACA purely because it was championed by Barack Obama and are bitter about his succeeding with this issue when others before him, such as President Bill Clinton and his effort to push through healthcare reform in 1993, failed. Republican presidential nominee Newt Gingrich initially supported the ACA early in 2011 before announcing his candidacy later in the year, “I am for people, individuals – exactly like automobile insurance – individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance,” but has turned against it in order to appeal to the Republican base. Mitt Romney, seeing that the ACA is based on the healthcare law he enacted in 2006, was once an enthusiastic supporter until he set his sights on the Oval Office as well.
The Republican Party has been overwhelmingly successful in their quest to demonize healthcare reform. While the ACA was being debated in 2009, right-wing darling, Sarah Palin said that the ACA would institute “death panels,” groups of bureaucrats who would determine whether certain Americans were worthy enough to receive adequate medical care. Even though this accusation was thoroughly debunked, it, along with other bits of misinformation such as the ACA will cut benefits to senior citizens, have helped form a negative perception about the ACA. In a recent conducted by Pew Research 2/3 of Americans oppose the individual insurance mandate with only 47% of those polled supporting the overall law.
While calling a rose by any other name does not change the fragrance of the object in question, calling a concept by any other name does change its perception and in a subtle way, its nature. As George Carlin once said, “changing the name of the condition does not change the condition.” By calling the PPACA “ObamaCare” or “RomneyCare,” politicians have effectively blurred the significance of healthcare reform, displaying a willingness to sacrifice an issue so important to the nation’s welfare by letting it fall within party lines. To support the ACA is to effectively align oneself with the Democratic Party while denying the importance and need for healthcare reform the ACA provides is to proclaim oneself to support a Republican agenda. Meanwhile, those of us who recognize the need for massive healthcare reform on a national level but are wary about instituting a mandate for purchasing private health insurance in order to comply with the new law, are torn not only by our political sympathies but by the belief that everybody deserves the same level of medical care.