Health Reform, The Galatians, and the Moody Blues


Posted on 28 March 2012

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Dr. Robert K. Ross
The California Endowment

The fate of the Affordable Care Act represents the most far-reaching legislative “so what” that our nation has seen in the last fifty years. Our Supreme Court has quite a weighty decision on their hands.    

A fair amount has been written, and continues to be written, by legal scholars about the relative constitutionality of the controversial law. I’ll steer clear from engaging in the discourse of constitutional law, particularly since I have zero expertise on that front.

Let’s just say that the support, defense, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act is the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

The best, single-phrase explanation for why it’s the right thing to do can be found in the Bible, New Testament, in the Book of Galatians, Chapter 6: “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” Simply put, the most powerful moral argument for supporting the Affordable Care Act is the elimination of decades-long discriminatory practices against people in our community who have the audacity to actually get sick. For the tens of millions of Americans who have arthritis, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, or cancer, our private health insurance system just does not work as currently constructed. Ask any one of the millions of uninsured Americans who have been faced with bankruptcy over the years as a result of paying for health care bills.

This is perhaps the most quizzical, and even whimsical, aspect of the oft-utilized “overreaching, big government takeover” critique of the new health law. For all of the election-year posturing about the new law as “socialist medicine”, the central purpose of the law’s coverage requirement (also known as “the mandate”) is thus: to preserve the integrity and stability of the private health insurance system. From a profitability standpoint for private health insurance companies, there is no other way to rid ourselves of discriminatory practices against sick Americans -- like pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps on coverage – without some system that allows us to “carry one another’s burdens” as brethren, as Paul’s New Testament letter to the Galatians succinctly states.  In other words, get as many healthy individuals in the private health insurance system as possible in order to make it work for all.

Pivoting quickly from the Bible to the science, there is also ample evidence that the defense and implementation of the Affordable Care Act is the smart thing to do. While we are unlikely to experience immediate reductions in the cost of health care to individuals or businesses, the independent federal Office of Management & Budget, as well as most health experts across the nation, concludes that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act offers our nation the best hope of reining in runaway health costs over the long haul. We are already beginning to see cost savings. In August, the Congressional Budget Office reported a decline in Medicare spending growth. Our health care system is broken and there is a lot at stake for staying on the right track.

The United States spends more than any other country in the world on medical care and California spends the most from all states. Yet the U.S. ranks 37th among developed countries in health status. We also know that prevention and access to care provides for healthier, stronger communities. According to a 2008 report from Trust for America’s Health, investing $10 per person per year in proven community-based programs that increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent tobacco use could save the country more than $1.6 billion annually within 5 years.  

As a general rule, when something is both the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do, as the Nike commercials spout, you “just do it.”    

In what has shaped up as a hotly contested presidential election, and with scorched-earth hyper- partisan bickering as the new normal in Washington these days, all manner of ill-founded, politically-motivated rhetoric has and continues to be lobbed against the Affordable Care Act. But I am reminded of the closing lines of the Moody Blues’ epic tune, “Nights in White Satin”:

Cold-hearted Orb rule the night
Removes the colors from our sight
Red is grey, and yellow is white
But we decide which is right
And which is an illusion….

This past weekend, in recession-ravaged Fresno, California, more than 5,000 people participated in a community resource fair to support and learn more about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and connect to existing health coverage programs. For these struggling Americans, and for the 50 million Americans who lack health insurance today or have pre-existing health conditions, the benefits of the Affordable Care Act are no illusion. It is simply the right thing to do.

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Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, a private health foundation that provides grants to community-based organizations throughout California.

Obama only gives more business to insurance companies. They, in turn, contribute heavily to the campaigns of the pols who approved the law.