On Oct. 1, the day the government shut down and the “Obamacare” insurance exchanges opened, I asked my college freshmen what they thought about Obamacare. Their answers remind me of those that talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel got when he asked on-the-street interviewees whether they preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. (They are, of course, the same thing.)
Like Kimmel’s people on the street, my students knew very little about Obamacare, which is a way of saying that they’re fairly typical Americans.
One student complained that no one should be forced to buy anything, failing to understand an essential principle of insurance: A larger risk pool will lower his cost for a service that he will need eventually.
Others asserted vaguely that Obamacare would increase health-care costs, although they weren’t clear how or why.
One articulate young guy blurted out that Obamacare is socialism! But he admitted that the televisions in his home are tuned to Fox News 24/7.
Finally, another student, who had uttered hardly a word all semester, said he was glad Obamacare was being implemented. He’d been injured and sick before without health insurance, and there was no way he could pay the bills.
In fact, if you accept the persuasive premise that health insurance is essential to affording medical care in our country, it’s clear that most of my students will benefit from Obamacare, whether they realize it or not. Here’s why:
USA Today reported last week that 15 percent of Americans don’t have health insurance. My students happen to live in Texas, which has an uninsured rate of 22.5 percent, the highest in the nation.
Furthermore, the great majority of my students are Hispanics, the ethnic group with the highest uninsured rate. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 3 non-elderly Hispanics have no health coverage. In Texas, the rate is higher — around 37 percent, according to the Texas Medical Association.
My students, mostly young and mostly healthy, have trouble understanding that their need for health care is virtually inevitable; without insurance, bankruptcy is a real possibility.
Nor do they know that American health-care costs are higher per capita than in most other Western countries, but that our medical outcomes aren’t necessarily better.
In short, Obamacare may be far from perfect, but even if it’s only partially successful, it will be an improvement and a small step in the direction of what citizens of many Western nations enjoy, systems of universal coverage that regard health as a basic right of citizenship rather than a profit center.
So, indulge my assertion that Obamacare is going to be good for my students — whether they know it yet or not — as well as for millions of others who are currently uninsured because they can’t afford it and for many others who are denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Many Americans will have access to a privilege of civilized life that they’ve never had before.
Which is why, as many have pointed out, Republicans oppose Obamacare enough to bring the government to a partial shutdown and to threaten to default on the country’s financial obligations. They understand that even partial success for Obamacare will undercut a primary Republican goal, the diminishment of Obama’s presidency and the destruction of his legacy.
And Obamacare’s success will make Republican achievement of the White House in 2016 very, very difficult. No wonder Obamacare became the point of contention that led to the shutdown and threatens default.
Republicans contend that Americans don’t really want Obamacare, a proposition undercut by the 8.6 million who flocked to the exchanges the day they opened. But at this point, Americans’ opinions in polls don’t really matter, do they? Obamacare has been duly enacted into law, and Republicans’ efforts to subvert the law by extortion are terribly undemocratic.
So, let’s insure my under-insured students, give Obamacare a chance and see how we like it in a couple of years.