by Stephanie Cholensky
Socialist Party USA Chair
On October 1st, due to the inability of the two houses of Congress to reach a compromise on the budget, Americans witnessed the first government shutdown of the new millennium. The shutdown represents a clear failure of the two parties of capital – a failure that disproportionately hurts working-class people by withholding pay while those responsible keep receiving their paychecks. Unsurprisingly, its root cause is one of the most important issues on the mind of Americans today: universal access to health care.
When almost 50 million Americans are uninsured, attempting to get more Americans access to health care is indeed a noble cause. The Affordable Care Act enacts long overdue regulations such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more because of a person’s sex or because of a pre-existing condition. However, the Act’s benefits to working people fall short under closer scrutiny, as it grants the care they should have had to begin with, but lacks a single-payer option and still leaves an estimated 30 million uninsured. The Affordable Care Act does call for public funding of health care, but these public funds end up in the pockets of the wealthy at the end of the day, making it hardly different from other corporate welfare programs.
Despite massive concessions made to health insurance companies and other private interests that have reaped astronomical profits off of America’s dysfunctional privatized health care system, Republican co-authorship, multiple amendments, and the passage by Congress and signoff by the president have, effectively, allowed Tea-Party Republicans to hold the government hostage until their demand to defund the Affordable Care Act is met. This was a futile effort, which did not stop the final and, arguably, the most important part of the bill from going into effect: the nationwide implementation of health care exchanges.
The question remains: why? Why are far-right political interest groups pulling out all the stops and spending millions of dollars to convince people not to sign up for health care on the exchanges, even when it stands to benefit insurance companies (not only by increasing their numbers of customers, but also by raising profits by creating a larger risk pool and funneling public funds earmarked for health care into private coffers)? Why are the governors and legislatures of right-leaning states refusing the Federal money they could bring to their state by setting up the exchanges themselves? Why are Republicans willing to bring so much ill-will toward Congress by allowing this shutdown in protest of this law?
These groups share a common fear of an unintended consequence that making health care more accessible to the uninsured will create: They fear Americans will start seeing health care as a human right rather than a privilege reserved for the wealthy. They fear that we will start asking why the United States pays so much more for so much less in health care. These have been trends long before the Affordable Care Act, as the uninsured rallied to demand answers.
The American health care system represents one of the most obvious and colossal failures of modern capitalism. People will not easily give up health care once it is available to them. The problem with this particular entitlement is that health care costs are rising; we cannot possibly sustain these rising costs under the privatized system. The problems of capitalism and the private health care system are obvious. The solution to this predicament is all around us, across our borders, across the oceans, and indeed in most countries of the earth: socialized medicine.