The big legal news this week is the decision by the United States Supreme Court finding that the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act does not violate the provisions of the United States Constitution. Legal analysts and bloggers of all persuasions are weighing in and giving us their interpretation of what they are claiming to be a landmark decision. I’ve been listening to the press, looking over the opinion, and wondering what I might be able to add to the discourse on the decision. Ultimately, I’ve decided not to try to analyze the decision or tell you what is important about it. From a legal standpoint, I don’t think the decision is going to have a significant impact upon American jurisprudence or the law as it exists today.
The overall effect of the decision is to return the issue of our national healthcare system to the political arena, where some are vowing to uphold the decision and others are vowing not to sleep until every last piece of the Affordable Care Act is done away with. In other words, we can count on continued political fighting.
For me, as a nurse attorney who has provided care at the bedside and now works with families to create economic and social justice, I’ve see a close up view of what happens in a family when a major health care crisis hits. Even with insurance, many families loose their life savings and are forced to seek bankruptcy protection. The average American lives in constant vulnerability that all they’ve ever worked for could be lost in the event of a catastrophic healthcare event. I have even witnessed instances where physicians, who normally function as our caretakers, have had their lives devastated by illness. We all need to remember that injury and disease can impact any of us at any time in our lives.
It is very important to me that my clients, friends, and family members all have access to affordable healthcare. I do not want to see an America where people are left to die in the streets, or people with treatable healthcare problems are turned away from receiving the care they need. I am not satisfied with our current healthcare system that has the greatest technology in the world available, but produces results that are among the lowest in the industrialized world, and are often no better and are sometimes worse than third world countries. We need to all ask ourselves what good is technology if so many can’t access even the most basic forms of care? What are we doing wrong?
As individual human beings and as a nation, I believe we have an obligation to take care of each other. I fear that a nation which turns her back when her people are suffering will not last long. I am always dismayed whenever I hear a person say that their neighbors should go without healthcare if they can’t afford it. I often wonder where such an attitude comes from and how can anyone really be so indifferent?
As we move forward with fixing our healthcare system we need to move beyond the idea that there are two competing sides and that one side will win and another will loose. The truth is that no solution will ever bring us a perfect healthcare system. However, we must always strive to improve and do better. To create an improved healthcare system it is important that we open our minds to new ideas and ways of delivering care to our people. We have to try a variety of different approaches and carefully measure what works and what doesn’t, not just economically, but also in terms of outcomes. We need to ask ourselves why, despite having the highest per capita healthcare spending in the world, we have very modest results on measures such as life expectancy and infant mortality? What can we change to improve those statistics? These are not just questions for our healthcare professionals and politicians, but for all of us. We have to work together.
The struggle to find a way to repair to our healthcare system will not end with the next election, or Court decision, or session of Congress. We all need to be invested for the long haul in making whatever changes are necessary to build the very best health system in the world. Our friends, neighbors, and family members deserve nothing less.