After the United States Constitution was drafted in 1776, the Founding Fathers came to the conclusion that every person living inside the United States deserves a certain set of unalienable rights. The Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, grants individuals rights such as the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. These fundamental rights are obviously valuable and essential to the wellbeing of our society today. However, given that the world is constantly modernizing and developing, it is critical to recognize that the United States is facing modern issues such as higher costs of living, and specifically higher medical costs that are associated with the improved ability to treat medical conditions. As a result, it is increasingly important that access to affordable healthcare be considered a fundamental human right. The passing of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, in 2010 was a step in the right direction for healthcare access in the United States.
In order to gain the perspective of both a patient and a physician interacting with health insurance policy on a regular basis, I interviewed Dr. Jirair Bedoyan, who is a survivor of T-Cell lymphoma and a geneticist at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. After Dr. Bedoyan went through several rounds of chemotherapy, he still needed to undergo a bone-marrow transplant to treat his cancer. As a result, he traveled to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle, Washington to have the medical procedure done. Dr. Bedoyan explains, “The market price of my transplant would have been between 150,000 to 200,000 dollars. Because I was insured under my employer, I had to pay only about 10% of that price, which was still a significant amount of money.” The benefit of health insurance coverage is apparent not only in extreme cases such as cancer treatment. In fact, because uninsured individuals often turn to Emergency rooms, which are required to treat all patients no matter the medical cost, instead of going to their primary care physician, they have to pay much more for medical treatment when they need it, which is largely why, according to Debt.org, “Americans spent $3 trillion on healthcare in 2014” and why “medical debt… is the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.” It is clear that health insurance is designed to lower medical costs for patients and, regardless of an individual’s health status, individuals should buy into health insurance. Obamacare has been instrumental in increasing healthcare coverage inside the U.S. According to The Balance.com, not only does Obamacare have an individual mandate, which requires everyone to have health insurance or pay an annual fine, but it also requires “all insurance plans to cover 10 essential health benefits. These include treatment for mental health, addiction, and chronic diseases. Without these services, many patients wind up in the emergency room. Those costs are passed onto Medicaid and therefore the taxpayer.” As a result, the Affordable Care Act has increased the percentage of people insured in the Unites States, as seen in Figures 1 and 2, which compare the percentage of the population which has health insurance for every state and the District of Columbia in descending order before and after Obamacare was passed.
Figure 1 includes data from 2009 (one year before Obamacare was passed), and Figure 2 includes data from 2015. Each state, labeled at the bottom, is colored either red, for Republican, or blue, for Democrat, based on how that state voted in the 2016 presidential elections (for 2015 data) and how that state voted in the 2008 presidential elections (for the 2009 data). The average state percentage for that year is also displayed as a line; notice that the average percent insured among states rose from 68% in 2009 to 74% in 2015.
Figure 3 shows the percent increase in health insured per state between 2009 and 2015, with Republican and Democrat states colored accordingly using 2009 Presidential Election results.
The Affordable Care Act also increases healthcare equity through its provision that no insurance company can deny health insurance to individuals with pre-existing conditions or genetic predispositions for certain diseases. Dr. Bedoyan says that, as a physician who does genetic testing and screening, “this aspect of Obamacare is extremely important, because without this protection, some of my patients would not get genetic testing done, because if the test revealed that the patient was prone to a genetic disease later in life, they may not be able to get insurance coverage. This could allow patients to miss important screenings and miss preemptive treatments.” Obamacare also extended the age under which children can stay under their parents’ health insurance plans to 26 years old from the previous age of 19 years old, which makes it more convenient for younger adults to receive health insurance.
Overall, the Affordable Care Act has been extremely beneficial for increasing the percentage of people with health insurance inside the United States, which in turn makes the healthcare system more effective and could decrease healthcare spending in the long run. However, the Trump administration is currently trying to unravel aspects of Obamacare, which remains unpopular among Republicans. For example, the Trump administration has already repealed the individual mandate through the Republican Tax Plan passed in 2017, and President Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to repeal additional parts of the original healthcare plan. In order to make an impact on this issue and become more informed, I encourage you to follow the Obamacare Facebook page @ilikeobamacare or follow Politico’s Pulse health newsletter, which gives you weekday news articles every morning. By staying up to date on the political news surrounding the healthcare debate, you will be able to make more educated voting choices if you are old enough to vote and, if you aren’t, you still will be able to advocate your ideas on social media platforms, like Facebook. It is imperative that our society realizes health insurance must be considered a right and not a privilege, because the sooner we do that, the sooner everyone will have affordable access to the healthcare they need and deserve.