I blame the founding fathers for the squawk over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA). If the brain trust gathered at Philadelphia in 1787 had dropped even one paragraph in the Bill of Rights about a health care entitlement, just think of all the political rants we’d have been spared. On the other hand, health care in 1787 amounted mostly to hacksaws, leeches and opium. You could get surgery, sure, you just couldn’t get anesthesia. The right to health care was probably left out of the Constitution because nobody really wanted it.
Times have changed, however, and now we are a nation that not only consumes health care enthusiastically but one that, for the most part, can’t live without it. In 2008 the federal government spent more money on Medicare and Medicaid than it did on defense. With health care commanding such a colossal portion of our nation’s spending, it has become a very big deal, and I have to believe if the Constitution were written today, the right to competent and accessible health care would have an article all its own. Modern health care lets us live longer and live better, which is why most folks want access to it. So why are so many people opposed to letting the ACA do the job of making health care insurance affordable to millions of Americans whose undersized paychecks separate them from health insurance? How is this a bad idea?
The answer is, it is not a bad idea. The fact is government involvement in health care has become a politicized topic, and it should not be. Talking heads from the left and the right have polarized the debate so much that now an individual’s political party affiliation pre-ordains how that person is obligated to feel about health care legislation. That is sad because decisions about health care are the last place into which the stench of special interest-driven politics should waft. I say adopt universal health care for all Americans and quash the political debate about health care once and for all.
What is political about whether an amputee or spinal cord-injured person should have adequate rehab and adequate mobility? Anyone who has seen the cost of a wheelchair or van modification or prosthesis understands hardly anyone is equipped financially to face the reality of living life with mobility needs without insurance. Therapists should be able to spend less time agonizing over letters of medical necessity and more time devising strategies that keep patients and clients active, mobile, and socially engaged. This should be standard operating procedure, not a debate. The ACA is not the mechanism that will make this happen, but it is a good first step toward building it.
For those who still can’t get behind the ACA—let alone universal health care—consider the boost to the economy that stands to take hold as a result of the ACA’s provisions. If an additional 30 million Americans take possession of health care insurance, it’s likely quite a portion of those folks will want to use many of the services that become available, including rehabilitative care. The demand for that care virtually assures an influx in hiring from back office staff to assistants and licensed clinicians. While we’re standing around waiting for housing to recover, or for factory orders to show signs of life, we could actually be led out of the economic doldrums by the health care sector.
The founding fathers did not oppose updates to the Constitution as society evolved, hence Constitutional amendments. Health care’s role now is quite unlike 1787, so maybe it’s time the Constitution was brought current with modern medicine. It seems to me that “access to competent health care” would fit in quite nicely with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s time for us to start thinking of health care less as a political football, and more as the hallmark of a superpower.