There has been quite a response as Republicans attempt to address various shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act. (Disclaimer: I’m strictly non-partisan and pretty much sour on both parties.) Amid the many complaints, The Oregonian put up a splashy headline on March 8: “Poor to Be Hit the Hardest.” Below the headline, a photograph displayed several Republican lawmakers so readers would know who was doing the “hitting.”
Popular opinion around the state, and especially in Portland, is enthusiastic about government programs like ACA, and understandably so. Who wouldn’t want health care where it is otherwise unaffordable? But is the ACA “affordable”? And if it isn’t, why are we blaming Republicans for the fact?
Neither Obamacare nor recent Republican efforts to reform it are “hitting” anyone. The problem is our broken healthcare system, which can’t be blamed on either party exclusively. According to Commonwealth Fund, U.S. citizens spent $9,086 per person on healthcare in 2013, more than 12 other wealthy nations, while “seeing the lowest life expectancy and some of the worst health outcomes.” Among other issues, a huge percentage of our healthcare dollars are siphoned off to support the bloated insurance industry and the trial lawyers.
Whatever else may be wrong with ACA, it is unsustainable, which is most likely the biggest reason for Republican efforts to reform it. According to pundits at The Balance, ACA added 30 percent to the already staggering $792 billion being spent on Medicaid and CHIP. Even before ACA, the Federal government spent $933.7 billion on healthcare (as of 2015). Neither party is solely to blame.
The mentality at work here is that somehow the government owes every American healthcare. Again, we’ve come by this point of view somewhat honestly. After all, we’ve been trained since the New Deal to expect the government to come swooping in to save us whenever disaster strikes. But that isn’t how the world works. The government may once have been able to rescue us from every disaster, but no longer. We’re broke. Forbes magazine reports that spending on Medicare and Medicaid is expected to double by 2024 to $1.4 trillion. That’s in addition to the $896 billion we spend annually on Social Security. Add in our $20 trillion National Debt and millions of aging baby boomers retiring in a declining economy. Are we ready to yell “Mayday!” yet? Apparently not.
According to Fortune magazine, U.S. median income was $39,000 in 2015, which is 27th globally. Meanwhile, prices rise and taxes increase with every fresh boondoggle like ACA. Guess who is footing the bill for all this largesse? The shrinking and increasingly burdened middle class, for the most part. The phrase, “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip” comes to mind. The U.S. is a second-rate power with a shrinking wallet, but we still behave like big spenders.
Our fiscal problems have gone way beyond Red and Blue. America is on an economic runaway train. If we continue to treat the government like a Sugar Daddy, it’s a guarantee that, very soon, we’re all going to see what “poor” really looks like.