Why the Safely Insured Should Care About Universal Health Care
Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we've chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about.
When our son William was 13-months old, he fell and split his ear open. It happened just before dinner, so my husband continued with the evening routine for our daughter Penny while I took William to the Emergency Room. The local pediatric ER serves most of Trenton, NJ, and when we arrived it was moderately full. One child had pink eye. Another vomited on the floor. None of them seemed to face what I would have deemed an "emergency." No broken bones, no cases of severe dehydration (which had brought us to the same ER a few months earlier with Penny), no gaping wounds other than William's. I suspected that theirs was simply the emergency of living without health insurance.
Access to health care has never been a personal issue for me. I grew up with enough affluence and stability to assume I would receive whatever medical care I needed. That assumption extended through my adult life, where the greatest problems I've faced in relation to health care have had to do with remembering to schedule routine appointments. Even though Penny was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome, shortly after her birth, access to health care hasn't been a problem for our growing family either. Penny has needed more medical care than most 6-year-olds, including a procedure to close a hole between her heart and her lungs, three sets of tubes in her ears, two minor eye surgeries, and plentiful routine checkups with specialists. We've paid our relatively minor share of the bills, and we've been grateful to my husband's employer and our insurance company for covering the rest.
And so I have watched the national debate over health care unfold with some degree of detachment. I have no dog in this fight. I see merits in arguments on both sides, as "liberals" support the use of government to ensure the common good and "conservatives" volley in return about protecting individual (and institutional) liberties. It's an essential and unending American tension between individual freedom and the collective consequences of such freedom. The Supreme Court has declared the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare) largely constitutional, and most of the provisions in the law will not impact our family in a direct or substantial way. And yet, despite some significant reservations with some of the law's provisions and mandates, I believe that this step towards universal health care in America is good for our family because it is good for our nation.
I support the expansion of health coverage to include those with pre-existing conditions and those who number among the "working poor" for both compassionate and pragmatic reasons. I'm well aware that my position as a woman with health insurance comes in part because my husband and I have worked hard through the years, and in part because of the undeserved fact of growing up in an affluent home. I have always had a safety net based not upon my own merits but upon the circumstances of my birth. When a comparable safety net is extended to the 30 million or more Americans without access to affordable health care, I not only applaud the change out of compassion, but also out of a pragmatic belief that this newly-created access to affordable healthcare will be worth its attendant costs as it improves individual and collective well-being.
A study in Oregon recently demonstrated that health coverage for uninsured residents "substantially increases health care use, reduces financial strain, and improves self-reported health and well-being." It cost more for Oregon to pay for health care for these individuals than it had when they were uninsured, at least in the short-term. But the personal impact on health and well-being suggests a substantial positive impact on society at large.
Access to health care for all Americans benefits all Americans, even those of us with stable coverage. The Supreme Court has upheld a law that enables government to provide for the common good.
And yet some of the provisions and language contained within the law demonstrate either ignorance of or disregard for personal liberties and personal responsibility. For instance, the law mandates access to prenatal testing for all pregnant women, and it does so under the heading of "preventative care." The language here assumes that a prenatal diagnosis will lead to abortion (the only way to "prevent" a prenatal condition), and thus suggests that the government wants to make choices on behalf of pregnant women rather than ensure access to information that will allow them to make their own choices. Similarly, the provision for coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions ensures that such individuals will not be charged more than their peers, unless they use tobacco. This exception demonstrates an arbitrary instance of government overreach in deeming tobacco use so negative that it must be singled out for financial penalty, whereas other adverse personal choices related to health (diet, alcohol and drug use, and unprotected sexual activity, for instance) go unremarked. Health care legislation ought to regulate basic health services for individuals without presuming women's choices about their pregnancies and while giving private health insurers reasonable latitude to award healthy behavior.
I look forward to a day when I can take my son to the Emergency Room and sit among other mothers who are there because their children need immediate care, not because they don't have access to local pediatricians for their children's infections and viruses and other routine complaints. I look forward to a day when I can number my own privileges as among those extended to all Americans. And I look forward to a day when a law that offers comprehensive good for our nation nevertheless upholds individual liberties and choices.
For additional views on the healthcare ruling, see Supreme Court Decision ObamaCare: We Should Rejoice and ObamaCare: A Tax By Another Other Name Is Still a Tax.