by Andrew Edwards
If you’ve tried to access any government websites, been unable to get tax forms for financial aid or paid attention to the news lately, you’ve probably noticed that the federal government has been mostly shut down. The reason for this is because the two houses of congress are so deadlocked, that they cannot even perform one of the most fundamental duties they were elected to and pass a budget to fund the government, something which is done every year.
While this sort of impasse normally has several complex causes, the disagreement here is simple, which those at blame have been very vocal about. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives outright refuses to pass a budget that includes funding for programs established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” Every budget that the house has submitted to the Democrat-controlled Senate does not include funding for the bill, so the Senate, rightfully, rejects them.
The very premise that a political party can simply not agree to fund a program that was legally passed through the various channels of government and signed into law because they disagree with it is outrageous. House Republicans know they can’t get elected officials, who represent you, me and the rest of the American people, to agree to dismantle the program, so instead they are simply holding the functioning of the government hostage until the senate gives in.
If these people are re-elected and face no political consequences, what is to stop them, or others, from doing this every time a law is passed that they don’t like? That precedent could severely undermine the entire American legislative system of checks and balances since there would be no guarantee that laws which were legally passed wouldn’t hurt the American people by stopping important programs that many depend on.
The situation is made even more infuriating when the program that house Republicans refuse to fund is one that will both save government money in the long-term and provide health insurance to millions who can’t afford it on their own.
Because passing the bill was so contentious and caused so much debate, the amount of misinformation that has been spread about it is huge. Unfortunately, a lot of this gets perpetuated by media and the important particulars often go undiscussed, so most people get an incomplete understanding based on conflicting information.
The purpose of the ACA is to expand insurance coverage to all Americans, so everyone can receive healthcare, and improve health insurance standards. By doing this, the act also seeks to lower the cost of healthcare in the U.S. which is currently the most expensive in the world.
Many of the provisions in the bill are designed to curb unethical practices in the insurance industry which allow insurers to make more money by taking advantage of the people they cover. For example, part of the new minimum standards for insurance policies include a ban on dropping people if they get sick, charging different rates to people based on their sex or refusing to cover people that already have a serious illness, who need medical coverage the most but would require their insurer to pay for more treatment.
The law also requires insurance plans to provide coverage for preventative care, like routine checkups, immunizations and disease screenings. A big problem with having an uninsured portion of the population is that they might not routinely go to a healthcare provider for these services because they cannot afford them, so they only go to a doctor when something is seriously wrong. Emergency procedures are expensive and can usually be prevented.
Hospitals are legally required to provide emergency treatment to those who require it under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which was passed in 1986, but they can refuse care to patients who cannot pay until an emergency. Because of this, many people who could have avoided a visit to the emergency room with earlier care find themselves there because of an inability to pay.
These same people are then faced with an enormous bill they can’t pay, and hospitals either make up the cost by charging more for other services or the bills are sometimes paid for by state governments with taxpayer money.
Even if insurance plans are made affordable, there is no guarantee that people will take the time to enroll if they are not required to, so the Affordable Care Act makes having an insurance policy mandatory. This way everyone can receive medical care when they need it and hospitals know they will be paid, which will help to reduce healthcare costs.
Health insurance can be a big expenditure for many people, so under the ACA the federal government provides subsidies for people based on their income and the number of people in their family unit. In 2013 an individual can make up to $45,960 a year and still qualify for a subsidy and a family of four qualifies if they make $94,200 or less. People with a lower income will qualify for a greater subsidy than those who make more. People who are below or slightly above the federal poverty line may qualify for free coverage under Medicaid.
The ACA only requires those who are currently uninsured to purchase a new plan, so if you are already insured you do not need to change plans. The majority of Americans already have insurance, but according to the most recent census, 48 million, or 15.4 percent, do not. These people tend to have low incomes, so they will benefit most from being given a way to afford health insurance.
A lot of the time congressional inaction can be blamed on both parties, but this time one is clearly at fault. House Republicans feel so strongly about denying healthcare to poor people that they are willing to cripple the federal government to do it. All while collecting a taxpayer-funded salary.