With much fanfare and hoopla, President Obama on March 23 signed into law the misnamed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” The legislation, termed “sweeping” and “historic” by the corporate media, had been passed by the U.S. Senate last December and approved by the House last week. Additions to the bill approved by the House will be taken up by the Senate in coming days and are expected to pass by majority vote.
Health insurance companies are the big
winners of the battle over health care
“We have just now enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care,” Obama declared, before an audience of more than 200 Democratic lawmakers, White House aides and others. (New York Times, March 23)
Well before the celebratory signing, Wall Street had been cheering the prospect of billions in added profits for the health insurance industry whose customer base the new legislation greatly expands. The share price of Cigna, for example, has surged 375 percent compared to 46 percent for the stock market overall (as measured by the S&P 500 index) since November 2008.
The vast majority of people in the United States have a lot less to cheer about.
It is not true that “everybody” will be afforded basic health care security under this legislation, most of which will not even go into effect until 2014 and subsequent years. Leaders of Physicians for a National Health Program stated March 22: “About 23 million people will remain uninsured nine years out. That figure translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths annually and an incalculable toll of suffering.”
Those who will remain uninsured include an estimated 12 million undocumented workers who came to the United States in order to feed their families after the economies of their home countries were devastated by imperialist plundering facilitated by NAFTA and other similar “free trade” agreements.
The day after signing the bill into law, Obama issued an executive order—this time without any press around—reaffirming that no federal funds could be used for abortion procedures. This outrageous concession to right-wing bigotry was part of a deal with anti-abortion Democrats who threatened to derail the insurance bill.
In addition, the bill will jeopardize the already inadequate health care provided to uninsured poor and working people by hospitals offering free emergency care. “The bill will drain about $40 billion from Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals, threatening the care of the tens of millions who will remain uninsured,” according to the PNHP statement.
Liberal and left-populist commentaries from the Firedoglake news website, Ralph Nader and other proponents of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all public health insurance system offer detailed and telling critiques of the new health reform legislation. For example, a Firedoglake Fact Sheet points out that coverage will be expanded by requiring millions of people who are currently uninsured to purchase insurance from private companies, paying rates that will be unaffordable for many, or the IRS will collect up to 2 percent of their annual income in penalties. Using the poor to boost the profits of private insurers is not health care—it is theft.
These critiques provide valuable ammunition for socialists and others advocating the real solution: free and universal health care as a basic human right.
However, not even a single-payer system will be won by continuing to employ tactics that rely mainly on electing and lobbying supposed Democratic friends of working people. History has shown repeatedly, and will again in years to come, that major social gains can only be won by powerful people’s movements that mobilize millions in independent mass struggle outside the rigged, corporate-dominated electoral arena.