The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has stirred up controversy in this country since early last year when it was rushed through Congress and signed into law just over a year ago. The law wouldn’t go into effect until 2014. Though well-intentioned, many of the provisions have divided Americans, especially the mandate requiring the uninsured to purchase insurance or pay a fine. The law now lies in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court justices to decide its constitutionality, based on the lawsuit brought by 26 states. On Tuesday, it appeared that five of the nine Supreme Court justices were leaning in favor of overturning the government mandate. The conservative justices asked pressing questions as to why anyone should be forced to buy something they don’t or won’t need — it will start with health insurance and then what? The justices are expected to rule on the constitutionality of the health care law by June. In the meantime, however, the conversation continues — regardless if this law is overturned or upheld, what are we really fighting about?
Many of us know what it is like to go without health insurance at one point or another. Whether fresh out of school, working in the service industry where most employers don’t offer health insurance, self-employed and can’t afford costly individual insurance, or simply starting a new job, most of us have experienced the fear of the unknown regarding what could happen to our health and of being unable to afford to take care of ourselves. We have heard the horror stories of families losing their homes when someone falls gravely ill and bills accumulate. We know about the creditors who will hound and harass until bills are paid in full. We have experienced or know someone who has experienced what it is like to beg for reprieve on overdue bills. In fact, the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in America is due to health care expenses.
Though the majority of Americans have insurance, 30 million go without. Of the uninsured Americans who needed medical care in 2010, a study by the Department of Health and Human Services last year found that only 12 percent of uninsured families paid their medical bills in full — leaving up to $49 billion in unpaid bills. Making up for this deficiency falls on the backs of taxpayers and the insured. It’s never a big surprise when doctors and hospitals charge insurance companies what seem to be exorbitant fees for services when so much is going unpaid.
Conservatives are against the mandate. Though they preach against the government forcing anyone to take care of anyone else, they don’t seem to recognize that the insured and the taxpayers are already doing so. To think that each person will be responsible, and do what needs to be done not to lean on anyone else ever, is a completely ignorant ideal. Though it’s a pragmatic approach to life, human beings have consistently fallen short of meeting such an expectation.
It is clear that the way we have been doing health care business in this country has gone awry. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act got Americans fired up for all the good it represented as well as the bad. But regardless of which way the justices rule, we Americans need to wake up and see the crisis happening around us and how much it costs all of us.