During the past few months, I have assigned my students to discuss the Affordable Care Act and whether it is a good thing or not. Typically, when I give an assignment, I don’t give students my perspective at the beginning, because I want students to discuss unaffected by knowledge of how I view the issue. However, I am not using that particular assignment any more (I’ve moved on to other current issues!), so I wanted to discuss my view of it. The following is an adaptation of an email I sent to a student in response to her question about my viewpoint.
First, I’m a humanist and very spiritual. I believe that each individual, once born, has the right to certain things as a human being. Those things are required, to my mind, so that each individual can start to reach his/her maximum potential to live a fulfilled life.
So what are those things? Those are things that ensure that the individual can exist in a way that at least basic physical needs are satisfied. That means that food, clothing, shelter and health care, are the very minimums to which each individual is entitled as a human being.
I believe human beings are entitled to those things regardless of their “worth” to society. So much of the discussion has tied entitlement to the basics to whether someone works hard, or doesn’t work hard (or doesn’t work hard enough) or does or does not contribute to society. Usually, that means we determine the value of the person by how much money they can make for someone else. We don’t do enough to value the contributions individuals make to the arts, music or science unless their contributions are quantified by monetary value. However, I believe that everyone, regardless of their “contribution” or lack thereof, should be able to eat, sleep, be warm and have physical health.
One key question is who pays for those basics. And my answer is that we do-which means we pay through our contributions to government–our taxes. My perspective–placing priority on providing the basics to maximize human potential– also means that our government spending priorities are wrong and should be completely refocused.
First, government should spend in a way that ensures everyone access to the basics. Government should spend money to make sure that everyone has access to food, shelter, clothing and healthcare. We can discuss what amount/level that means (i.e. does government buy a certain minimum amount of food and deliver it, does government employ health care providers or use the private sector, etc.) but it is very shortsighted to ignore providing for the basic level of needs for everyone.
How can we have a successful, healthy society if we’re busy assessing how much someone contributes in order to determine whether they’re entitled to have their basic needs fulfilled?
(The second priority–but not a far second–should be giving everyone a chance to fulfill their potential through access to education, the arts, the internet, liveable wage and other things, but that’s a different question.)
After those priorities, then government can spend money, as it feels appropriate, on other things, including subsidizing corporations. Government priorities are currently the opposite: the focus is on what can be done to help businesses make as much money as possible. (And I strongly endorse the right to make a profit- I just don’t endorse profit making as the overriding priority so that it sacrifices the basic needs of human beings).McCutcheon exacerbates that problem (although see here a more measured view of that decision).
Money out of politics through publicly funded elections is the only solution.
So, as for the Affordable Care Act, what is my take? My take that it’s a small step in the right direction. President Obama catered too much to what objectors to universal health care said, instead of taking a humanist approach that everyone should have a minimum level of health care. However, it’s better than the alternative (allowing people to remain sick and/or even die because they don’t have the money for health care).
My perspective, which has always been in favor of universal health care, has been colored even more by the deaths of two people very close to me.
One died because, as an entrepreneur who was self-employed, she did not have money for health insurance and when she began feeling ill she just tried her own home remedies. She refused to go to the doctor (except for one basic health exam which cost her nearly $300). She finally used the emergency room as her doctor (and even then she had to go twice in two days in order to get the tests she needed. Those tests identified that she had cancer that had metastasized and she was given 6 months to live). She died within 4 months of that diagnosis. Had she had access to health care at low/no cost several years prior, it’s possible the cancer could have been identified earlier and treated.
The other was my mother who was “kicked out” of a nursing home after the long-term insurance she had purchased expired (based on a formula that there was a limit on time for ongoing health conditions and that the different symptoms she had experienced were all part of the same health condition) and sent to state-run nursing home where she died less than a year later. She lived a long life but could probably have lived longer had she had access to better health care.
So that’s my take on the ACA and the background on why I feel a universal health care system is absolutely essential if we’re to be a democratic nation of people who have the opportunity to reach their full potential without worrying about whether they can fulfill their basic, human needs.