I never truly understood how much healthcare in the U.S. cost until I got appendicitis in October,” wrote Reddit user ‘zcypher’ in a post detailing the price of his appendectomy and one-night stay.
Attached to his statement was a picture of his hospital bill—$16,277 for the standard appendix operation, $7,501 for a recovery room he claimed to have stayed in for two hours, $4,878 for room and board and tens of thousands of dollars more for scans, anaesthesia and supplies—which came to a grand total of $55,029.31.
When an unavoidable illness cripples one’s wallet to an enormous extent, it becomes painfully clear that our system is flawed. Healthcare is a necessity, yet its affordability is restricted to only those whose employers offer packages, or who can afford insurance on their own. Those without insurance must play a game of luck—one accident could plummet them into major bankruptcy with tens of thousands of dollars worth of emergency room expenses. Even for people with insurance, like zcypher, a hefty price is typical: zcypher’s balance was still $11,119.53 post-insurance.
It is appalling that America is the only one of the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development without a system of universal healthcare. For decades, Americans who were unemployed, had pre-existing medical conditions or were independent business owners—to name a few—often did not have healthcare insurance, or were denied because covering chronic illnesses would put private insurance companies at a disadvantage.
In 2010, the first step towards universal healthcare came in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare. Established by former President Barack Obama, its goals were threefold: make affordable healthcare accessible to more people by providing additional subsidies, expand the Medicaid program for citizens with limited resources and sponsor innovative healthcare methods to lower costs in the long run.
And that’s what it did. Prior to the instatement of the ACA, approximately 50 million Americans were uninsured, nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population according to Gallup. In 2016, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report estimated that the percentage of all uninsured Americans was at 8.6 percent, an all-time low. Those with chronic illnesses are also protected by a provision within the Act, which requires insurance companies to cover everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions.
This is not to say that the ACA is the perfect cure for America’s healthcare headache. Admittedly, there are many issues with the Obamacare system—costs are high, millions remain uninsured, and some insurance companies are backing out due to lower participation in the program than previously anticipated. While there is much to be done to truly achieve a practical healthcare system, we cannot act rashly. It will be much easier to alter parts of the Act instead of creating another system from scratch; despite its flaws, Obamacare is the closest America has ever gotten to universal healthcare. Repealment would be costly—Commonwealth Fund-Rand study found that out-of-pocket costs would rise from $3,200 under Obamacare to $4,700 if it was repealed. Even when disregarding the financial factor, the 20 million people insured under Obamacare would lose their healthcare plans.
Losing medical coverage is not just a matter of surging costs. A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the expansion of Medicaid saved one life per 455 people who gained healthcare insurance. Using that data, it was concluded that if Obamacare is repealed and 20 million people lose their insurance, an estimated 43,956 additional deaths would occur annually.
The GOP, which has championed the fight for an ACA repeal, overlook the hypocrisy in their opposition. Obamacare was modeled after Romneycare, a Massachusetts healthcare plan created by Republican Mitt Romney. While the plans are largely the same—both use state-based exchanges, subsidize coverage for low-income families and have individual and business mandates—Romneycare attracted far less criticism than Obamacare did. If one deserved praise for healthcare reform, the other should too, regardless of party affiliation.
Before we shoot down the ACA, we must acknowledge the ramifications of doing so. Our government must work together to improve our existing systems, not fight for a repeal that would ultimately destabilize our nation. The debate over Obamacare has very real consequences; healthcare is not just a matter of policy or cost—for some, it is a matter of life or death.