The American public has been treated to a sad spectacle in recent weeks. With the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hanging in the balance, the country’s political leadership—from the President on down—engaged in an off-putting war of words and partisan sniping. All the players clung to unbending ideological positions, exhibiting a stubborn determination to seek political advantage.
Utterly lost in this first chapter of the battle for healthcare reform under the new Administration—the first of many political skirmishes, undoubtedly—was the fate of millions of poor or relatively poor Americans. Their access to quality healthcare depends on what their representatives in the nation’s capital manage to come up with. Their well-being, not politics, should take center-stage. The duty and high calling to serve the common good—as inscribed in the country’s founding documents—should guide legislators on both sides of the aisle.
Sadly, things are off to a very poor start; and with the battle for tax reform looming large as the next showdown in Washington, D.C., it is to be feared that genuine healthcare reform may get lost in the shuffle. As a result, the ACA, for better and for worse, will hobble onward for the foreseeable future—continuing to protect some, while raising the financial burden for many others as premiums rise and the pool of insurers shrinks, not to mention a host of other unresolved, compounding difficulties dogging the program.
On a practical note, it must be remembered that the ACA was not solely the invention of the Obama Administration. The pursuit of providing healthcare to the legions of uninsured Americans dates back some 30 years, to the efforts, however imperfect, of the First Lady during the first Clinton Administration. The simplistic, jingoistic slogan “repeal and replace” badly fails to do justice to the complexities involved. Still more seriously, such an approach overlooks the urgent needs of the ultimate beneficiary of any reform: vulnerable and needy Americans of all backgrounds.
It is clear that the ACA bears improvement. All stakeholders—legislators, insurers, drug companies, medical device makers, health care providers., as well as the American people at large—are in agreement that there is a need for a certain repair and degree of transformation. However, common sense and a focus on the common good should guide the necessary process—not self-serving partisan politics that play fast and loose with the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of untold numbers of ordinary Americans.