So what do you think of the Affordable Care Act?”, I asked one of the housekeeping staff while I was on break. “You mean, the Obamacare?”, she replied. “My husband has a good insurance through the labor union. We are all covered under him. I do not know much about it, but I think our neighbor next door has it. He has small kids and he only works on rooftops every summer. He told me that the kids are completely covered and he does not think there is much difference to what he used to do since he and his wife go to Cook County Hospital only when they are very sick. I guess it is good for him.”
Her supervisor overheard the conversation while getting a can of soda from a vending machine. “The Affordable Care is not really affordable”, she voiced out. “What do you mean?”, I asked. “Well, no matter what you do, all these private companies involved will do anything to ensure that their profit is in place, their stockholders are happy and that their CEOs get paid their millions. Obamacare is like a toothpaste. The cost of benefits provided to those who cannot afford are sucked from the cost of those who can. The healthy are funding the sick. The excessively wealthy share only the minimum proportion of the cost they use. And the bulk of the expense is still upon the shoulders of the middle class”.
“Is that not how a capitalistic society works”, I asked further? “You are right”, he said. “But I do not think that Health Care should be within the realms of capitalism. I believe that health care should be a social benefit wherein the true welfare of the citizens should be placed above and beyond profits, stock value and excessive compensation of corporate leaders. Only when the majority of the citizens get a fair and equitable health benefits relative to their needs can we say that a true “Affordable Care Act” is really in place.
“I agree”, said a nurse who just sat down for an early dinner before starting her shift. Any kind of health insurance or health care law can be fair when the cost behind them is regulated. The “Affordable Care Act” did not address the costs of health care services and other health care products that eat up the health care budget. For example, there is a nurse to patient ratio observed in hospitals and regulated by agencies. Nurse to patient ratio in nursing care facilities seem to be in the shadows of regulation. During surveys, they seem not to care what the census is. They only care that the right things are done regardless of whether there are 10 residents for one nurse or there are 25. For skilled nursing, the number of residents means a lot. So, if core problems like this are not addressed, the “Affordable Care Act” will only shift the burden of health care costs from one sector of the population to the other. The universal health care benefits it claims will remain a utopic dream”.
“Hmm, so what about the problem of covering pre-existing conditions, the benefit of having insurance for young adults who are still in school, the protection that Insurance Companies can no longer cancel a plan because of claims: are these not good features of the Affordable Care Act?”, I threw the question to anyone who wanted to respond.
The small break room started to buzz with people talking to each other. “I still think Health Care should be a public service”, said a resident a resident’s son. “When profit is not an issue and when executive compensation does not unreasonably occupy the majority of health care expense, better health care services can be provided”, I overheard from a table nearby. Then he continued, “My health care benefit comes from a large network within the structured organization of our Church. Since every member of our Church has submitted to the principles of our faith and believe that health care is a public service which should not be within the realms of capitalistic rules, all our compensated health care staff have a pay scale approved by the majority of our members. They are neither underpaid or excessive. We have the collective power to determine the cost of health care products from vendors. And we provide services defined by health care needs and not by individual income. Within the organization of our Church, the Affordable Health Care Act is superseded by our own laws”.
“Good for you”, said another family member from the same table. I pretended to munch my snack while I listened”. “But can we be members of your Church just so we can available of your excellent health care benefits?”, he continued. I quietly smiled and talked to myself. Any Church from any religious faith or denomination tends to impose the principles of their own faith and their own beliefs. If and when they allow people who do not share the same faith principles to be a part of their system just to extend their benefits, the faith based principles are defeated and the Church is gradually diluted. For this reason, many hospitals owned by large religious institutions have shut down. Their identities have been messed up and their reason for existence simply disappeared.
I looked at my watch. I have 10 minutes left for my break. Since my shift is on the fifth floor, I have enough time to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator. I do share with the voices that some of these people echoed about the “Affordable Care Act”. For those employed by socially conscious corporations who really care about their employees, these new laws are perhaps insignificant. Their workers will be taken care of and might not even be affected by the changes. And for those who are not, the rising cost of Health Care and the increasing statistics on morbidity will decrease discretionary spending income, the result of which could be a heightened awareness for prevention and a more healthy lifestyle. If more and more people can work on not being sick, then the demand for health care will be reduced, and the cost will consequently diminish. That is at least the ideal. Unfortunately, within a capitalistic system, instead of costs going down, profits go up. So instead of health care benefits trickling down to the majority of the people, health care profits will be concentrated to the minority of health care individuals. Although it appears as a nasty reality, such is the truth of a free enterprise. Unless the totality of health care is locked up within the premises of socialistic structure, benefits and profits will never be completely revised.
In the end, the common sense thing to do is to stay healthy. It is of course easier said than done. In a land of cheap abundance and excessive demand for proportion, it will not be easy to avoid the seduction of American consumerism. But that would be another issue, perhaps another “break time” conversation. In the meantime, stay warm….