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October 18, 2013 / politicsbitesize

Obama Care

White HouseOver the last few weeks the world and the money markets have been holding their breath waiting for the US Congress to make a decision on raising its federal debt limit.  Early on Thursday morning (17th October 2013), Congress passed a bill that allowed the US government to reopen and narrowly miss defaulting on future debt obligations.  The bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law, came just hours before the deadline to raise the $16.7tn (£10.5tn) limit.  It extends the Treasury’s borrowing authority until the 7th February 2014 and will ensure that the government will be funded until at least 15th January.

But what led the US government to a partial shutdown and a narrowly missed debt abyss in the first place?  According to reports from the BBC, a disagreement over federal government spending between the Republicans (who control the House of Representatives) and the Democrats (who control the Senate) led to Congress failing to pass a budget before the fiscal year ended on 30 September.  In the past the budget deadlines have been used to gain political leverage in contentious policies and in this instance the issue at the centre of it all was Obama Care, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to give it its official name. The Republicans, in the House, approved a budget that had removed funding for Obama Care, which was later rejected by the Senate, and it was this stand-off that caused the US government to shut down for the first time in 17 years.

Since it was signed into law in March 2010, the Republicans have fervently rejected Mr Obama’s proposed overhaul of the US healthcare system.  This dismissal is primarily based on the belief that Obama Care isn’t popular with the American public but also because of the costs involved.  Amongst many provisions, Obama Care would like to extend Medicaid to families who are in full time work and earn less than $30,000 a year.  Medicaid is a government-backed program that provides federal funded health care provision for families and individuals on low income.  Therefore, by extending this provision the government must pay more for the health care of its citizens than it currently does.

The major Republican concern is that the extension of the Medicaid system will disincentivise people on low-incomes to seek private healthcare.  However, the main tenet of Obama Care is to help the 15% of Americans, that’s around 50 million people, without private insurance to gain access to affordable health care.

Obama Care Logo

Obama Care Logo

The Obama Care Facts website spells out what the new initiative is all about:

Obama Care’s goal is to give more Americans access to affordable, quality health insurance and to reduce the growth in health care spending in the U.S.

Obama Care doesn’t regulate your health care, it regulates health insurance and some of the worst practices of the for-profit health care industry.’

From what Politics:bitesize has read about the health insurance industry in the US, one thing is clear: it is an incomprehensible system!  There are numerous devices that the private insurance companies use in order to avoid paying up or to add more profit to their balance sheets.  Just a few examples are: dropping patients if they become too sick, indiscriminate rate hikes, gender discrimination policies that charge women much more than men, lifetime and annual spend limits and the ability to not insure someone with a pre-existing illness.

So it is unfathomable as to why the Republicans would want to reject an overhaul of a system that is clearly unfair, discriminatory and unaffordable for so many US citizens.  What does seem clear, however, is just how lucky we are in the United Kingdom to have a health care system that is free at the point of use and that will look after us no matter what age, gender or how sick we are.  The row that has blazed this month in the US should remind us all what a precious resource the NHS is.



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