As a physician, I find it very odd that the debate over the Affordable Care Act has focused on the effect the law will have on the presidential election rather than the impact it will have on patients, health professionals and health outcomes.
The Supreme Court case reinvigorated the debate over the Obama administration's 2010 health care reform law. But we're still getting partisan talking points instead of an honest review of the changes that are in store. This will likely worsen as we get closer to Election Day.
The new law is based on concepts developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney passed a very similar law for his state when he was the governor of Massachusetts. So while most Democrats are celebrating the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act and Romney is saying he'd repeal it, consider this: Had a Republican passed this federal law, we would have the opposite situation.
Let's put politics aside and look at the law from a policy standpoint. The big winners of the Supreme Court decision are the corporations who are profiting from the current health system — private health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate-owned hospitals and medical practices.
The Court has deemed it constitutional for the government to require people to spend up to 9 percent of their income to purchase private insurance despite it being a defective product. People with insurance continue to face financial barriers to care. They delay and avoid necessary care because of the cost of co-pays and deductibles.
When patients have a serious medical condition, they risk financial ruin. Illness and soaring medical costs are the greatest causes of bankruptcy in the United States, even though four out of five people experiencing medical bankruptcy have health insurance. Purchasing private insurance is going to be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. It will cost Uncle Sam an estimated half a trillion dollars between 2014 and 2019 to pay that tab, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The insurance mandate and these subsidies will create corporate welfare on steroids.
What will the insurance companies do with all that money? They'll hold onto as much as they can by denying and restricting payment for care. And they'll use those dollars to weaken regulations meant to protect patients.
When national health care reform is fully implemented in 2019, 26 million people will still lack coverage. And health costs will continue to rise because the law lacks proven cost controls.
While the law does include a few positive provisions, it won't stop the deterioration of our health care system. We'll continue to see unnecessary suffering and preventable death. This is unacceptable when we are already spending nearly twice as much per person on care each year as other industrialized nations with universal health systems and much better health outcomes.
The truth is that we can solve our health care crisis. The fastest way to accomplish this is to drop just two words from the Medicare Act — "over 65" — and immediately expand Medicare to every person. That would create a system that's about health care, not corporate profits. A universal Medicare system would control costs and improve the quality of patient care.
Let's demand Medicare for all now. The longer we wait, the more people will suffer and die needlessly.
Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician from Baltimore and co-director of ItsOurEconomy.US. This was first published by OtherWords .org. Reprinted with permission.