Healthcare cost a shared target in White House race
Americans’ ailments persist away from the ideological clash about medical care, writes CARL O’BRIENin Cleveland
IT MIGHT not sound like it, but Mike Mayle says he’s one of the lucky ones.
After losing his job at the car manufacturer Ford, he decided to look after his ailing mother on a full-time basis. He lost his health insurance, which was tied to his employer, and relied on social security payments to get by. Then, his hip gave out.
He’s one of an estimated 32 million Americans without health insurance in a country where healthcare is among the most expensive in the world.
Research shows lack of insurance is harmful to people’s health.
Because healthcare in the US is so expensive – up to three times that of many developed countries – the uninsured are more likely to suffer chronic ill-health or die prematurely. The uninsured can always go to a hospital emergency room – hospitals are legally obliged to provide care. But by the time they do, many are much sicker than they would have been had insurance given them access to routine and preventive care.
“From my point of view, I had no medical coverage and no way of paying for my medicine, or surgery,” says Mayle, now 63. “But, thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that.”
Last year, he was able to avail of a “community benefit” programme run by the Cleveland Clinic, a massive non-profit medical centre in northeast Ohio which provides free or discounted medical care to those who can’t afford it.
“I’m lucky,” says Mayle, who uses specially adapted crutches to get around the city. “I have a lot to be thankful for.”
After the economy, no subject generates more debate among voters on this presidential election than healthcare.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have sharply divergent views.
The key issue in the spotlight is Obama’s Affordable Care Act, passed in the face of seething Republican opposition in 2010.
The law has come to symbolise everything that most Republicans believe is wrong with Obama’s presidency, including the cost of the legislation and the government’s role in the healthcare market.
It is the most far-reaching overhaul of the healthcare system in living history. In short, it will extend health insurance coverage to an additional 30 million people.
“We believe that in the richest nation on Earth, you shouldn’t go broke when you get sick,” Mr Obama said earlier this year. “And after a century of trying, and decision now from the highest court in the land, healthcare reform is here to stay.”
To implement all this involves obliging all Americans to obtain insurance or pay a tax penalty which is due to begin in 2014. Health insurers will be prevented from rejecting sick people with pre-existing conditions. In many respects, it’s not unlike what the Irish Government is pledging to do.