Party politics is a back-and-forth struggle for ideological supremacy, often rendering sound policy the victim of partisanship. But every once in a while you see a bill come along that is ostensibly above reproach, progressively post-partisan, universally appealing -- a bill so undeniably sweeping in its scope, so unyielding in its reform, that one expects sheer force of reason to for once crack the monolithic gridlock of partisan bickering.
Or so I thought.
The legislation provides health insurance coverage to an additional 32 million Americans, grants small businesses $40 billion worth of tax credits, creates state-based free-market insurance exchanges, reduces prescription drug costs for seniors, reincentivizes primary and preventative care, provides thousands of dollars of scholarships and loan repayments for medical students willing to work in primary care, and ends coverage denial based on pre-existing conditions, all while cutting the federal deficit by $143 billion over the next decade and $1.2 trillion over the following one. When a bill like that is being put up for repeal, I, as both a student and a citizen, am not only dazed, but baffled.
Admittedly, perhaps the health reform package didn't go far enough. Lacking the "public option," this bill could have conceivably done more to check the power of private insurance corporations and move away from employer-based coverage to more effectively reform our broken paradigm. Still, as tempting as it is to make the perfect the enemy of the good, such omissions hardly warrant the complete rescission of an otherwise significant leap forward in American health care.
Sure enough, however, that's exactly what's happening. With the newly minted 112th Congress sworn in, the Republicans -- buoyed by their resounding victory in the 2010 midterm elections -- have vowed to dismantle health care reform.
Republican legislators have argued that their successes at the polls in November signify the American populace's disapproval with the Affordable Care Act -- that their triumph in the midterm election lends them a democratic imperative to repeal the bill. Taken at face value, this conviction almost seems reasonable -- perhaps even called for.
Truly, though, how many Americans favor giving insurance companies near monopolistic market power? Support adding billions (and eventually, trillions) of dollars to the federal deficit? Celebrate the pre-existing conditions clause? How many American citizens are okay with being uninsured when unemployed -- having no health insurance coverage when least able to pay their medical bills? Even the most vehement critics of the health care bill would be hard pressed to, in good faith, find anyone against any of these individual provisions.
Of course, the many benefits of the bill strike a deeply personal chord as well. Consider the bill's provisions banning age-related discrimination in insurance policies. At first glance, this stipulation almost certainly appears to have been crafted with elderly patients in mind. Yet consider how generally unacquainted students are with the ever-tortuous health insurance paradigm we have in the US. Most of us, still seemingly invincible and never really having to think about our health at all, are simply ill-equipped to navigate the tangled web of eclectic policies and coverage plans offered by insurance companies. As a result, we are extremely vulnerable to predatory insurance practices -- to wit, it's easy to rip us off. For most students who subsist on limited means as it is, this is not only difficult to deal with, but quite frequently bank-breaking.
But that's not all. For me and many of my peers, the first few post-college years are among the most stressful of our entire lives, as we attempt to lay the foundations for our life-long career while simultaneously paying off burdensome student loans. The current economic climate only exacerbates this issue. Recently, securing that first job has become not so much an endeavor, but a struggle. Bear in mind, then, how before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, students were dropped from their parents' insurance plans in some states as early as 19 years old, ensuring that our lives literally depended on getting that first job. This unabashedly backwards status quo is made even more ridiculous when one considers the frequency with which, in this increasingly global marketplace where education is more and more critical for securing a stable, well-paying profession, many of us pursue graduate education. At that point, we often go several years without substantive employment -- and consequently, several years without coverage. This, for many of my older cousins and friends, was the real American Dream: work hard, study hard, and you'll surely be successful -- just don't get sick along the way.
The GOP may have capitalized on voter discontent with sluggish economic growth, or perhaps the Obama administration as a whole, but there is no reason to believe that a repeal of this bill is at all demanded by (or in the best interests of) the American people, much less their children.
What else, then, possibly justifies the imperative to repeal the act? Cost? Can't be -- as alluded to above, the bill significantly reduces the deficit. Rising premiums? Nope -- according to the nonpartisan CBO, the Affordable Care Act will actually slightly decrease premiums for employer-based insurance. Kills jobs? Negative again -- another recent report by the CBO indicates that the legislation will have a negligible effect on unemployment.
This is not to say that the health care bill is perfect -- certainly the 1000-page legislation is not without flaws. That being said, the call for repealing health reform appears to be all about party politics. And that is something that I won't stand for, my fellow students won't stand for, and above all, the American people won't stand for.
Rahul Rekhi is a sophomore at Rice University, where he is studying bioengineering and economics.