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Obama Can Boast 7.1 Million Reasons to Call Health Reform Gamble a Success

Put simply, health is the cornerstone of freedom, which is why some people describe health care as a human right.

Photo Credit: Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons


With the most recent deadline to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (or ACA, more widely known as Obamacare) passed, President Obama has  7.1 million reasons to call his big health reform gamble a success. As health care professionals — an emergency physician and public health professor — we can attest to the power of the president’s victory. Indeed, everyone (young or old, healthy or not) should have access to health care.

But even as we celebrate this historic achievement, we should keep in mind that  15.6 percent of us (nearly 50 million Americans) remain without coverage. In other words, the recent ACA deadline brought us closer than ever to universal coverage — but we’re still not close enough.

As millions of Americans stand to benefit from the ACA this year, the law still faces legal challenges and remains the subject of controversy for millions more. Critics of providing universal health care argue that it goes against Americans’ aversion to big government. These claims, however, consider a limited subset of history that considers events like the Boston Tea Party and individual rights outside of their full contexts. In doing so, they ignore that the drive to protect citizens from the perils of disease dates back to Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose Platform, and that efforts to vaccinate Americans against communicable diseases continued throughout the twentieth century.

What Roosevelt and so many of his predecessors (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon to name a few) realized back then is that a healthy populace is essential if a nation is to develop and thrive. This realization eventually led to the enactment of the American Social Security, Disability and Medicare programs. In more recent history, Ronald Reagan established the Ryan White Care Act, which still provides a safety net to individuals living with HIV/AIDS and have little access to life-saving drugs and care.

Similarly, George W. Bush established PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), a program that has saved millions of lives worldwide. And while PEPFAR differs only in that it is not a domestic program, all of these programs clearly demonstrate what we can accomplish in healthcare — both at home and abroad.

There are also those who protest that providing health care for all is an impingement on freedom and individual choice. But accepting this argument requires a very narrow definition of freedom, one that assumes that all choices are available to all people at all times.

This is simply not true. The choices we make are limited by the options available to us (financial or otherwise), and it is an unfortunate fact of life that illness makes us vulnerable and dependent. This is especially true in the case for a catastrophic, debilitating, or chronic illness, where the misery and suffering is felt not only by the one who is sick but also by his or her family. In other words, lack of health care access limits our choices and curtails our freedoms.

Put simply, health is the cornerstone of freedom, which is why some people describe healthcare as a human right. By extension, any measure to extend access to health care is a necessary step toward the expansion of freedom — even if that measure comes in the form of policy initiatives or legislation.

Others who may agree that we should provide health care for all may shake their heads at the unfortunate irony that we simply cannot do this. They point to the fact that the United States already spends more per capita on health care than any other developed nation and that increasing access to health care will inevitably increase costs. A little cited fact in all of this, however, is that administrative bureaucracy makes up nearly a third of health care costs.