April 7, 2017
Canadian health care spending for 1970 to 2007 compared with other nations; the graph is a courtesy of: WikiBasti – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9820509
American attitudes towards universal healthcare insurance have long baffled the rest of the world. Only in the U.S. is serious illness a ticket to bankruptcy and the food bank. How is this conducive to healing?
The Republican party has always insisted that Americans would rather die free than depend on socialist medical care. One result is that the American infant mortality rate is a “national disgrace,” according to the Washington Post. And Americans seemed okay with that–until lately.
Many presidents have attempted to introduce a universal state-run healthcare system similar to Canada’s or Europe’s. Bill Clinton won the 1992 election after campaigning heavily on health care. Hillary Clinton introduced a national health care plan in 1993, when she was still a very popular First Lady.
Her policy ran into trouble immediately. U.S. conservatives, libertarians, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries furiously rejected anything that smacked of universal health care, saying patients would be stigmatized by having public rather than private insurance. They also launched vicious personal attacks on Hillary Clinton that destroyed the proposal and permanently damaged her reputation.
In the 2008 U.S. election, Barack Obama campaigned again on health care reform. He managed to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during the two-year window (2008-2010) when the Democrats held the White House, a majority in the House of Representatives, and a Supermajority in the Senate. The ACA expanded Medicare and expecially Medicaid, the existing public health insurance programs.
Since the president signed the ACA into law in August 2010, House Republicans have introduced Bills more than 60 times to repeal it, knowing the president would veto any such Bill, even if the Senate passed it.
Part of the current President’s 2016 election triumph was the GOP’s opportunity to introduce yet another Bill to repeal the ACA, in full expectation that the majority Republican Congress would whisk the Bill through promptly.
Wrong! When Speaker Paul Ryan counted votes in advance, he had to tell the President that enough Republicans opposed the motion to defeat it — a public rejection he did not want to risk. They withdrew the motion instead, which was still a humiliating defeat.
Remember the old bumper sticker, “My karma ran over my dogma”? Between 2010 and 2016, U.S. public opinion on healthcare changed dramatically. As with affirmative action programs, once people actually had to live and work with another option, they found the situation more congenial and less threatening than they ever expected.
While the greatly expanded Medicaid included 20 million more people, the catch is that each state has to sign on to the program and design its own system. Thirty-two states joined Medicaid, each with its own version and requirements.