On Wednesday night Sens. Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, the runners-up for their respective parties’ nomination, engaged in a CNN debate on the future of the Affordable Care Act. This legislation also goes by the nickname “Obamacare,” which I must point out because polling indicates a third of Americans don’t know these are the same thing. The debate highlighted the different approaches each party has in regards to healthcare policy.
Sen. Sanders acknowledged the shortcomings of Obamacare, but contended that an outright repeal would be disastrous. He is in favor of improving Obamacare, and ultimately moving towards a system where healthcare is a guaranteed right for all.
Cruz generally argued that Obamacare is a travesty that drive up costs and hurts small businesses. He claimed that Republicans would replace Obamacare with new health reforms, although their party has had eight years to come up with a better plan and have not released one. The only concrete specifics Cruz gave were that they would “get the government out of healthcare” and give choices to citizens.
No matter what individual policies and regulations come forth from a healthcare law, the role of government is the key difference between the parties in our country, on almost every issue. The question is always whether the government or private companies should handle certain functions and responsibilities.
This boils down to which entity we should trust to handle healthcare policy. The main difference between the government and private companies is that one is accountable to the American people and the other is accountable to shareholders and their profits. The government has an incentive to give you quality coverage, because you are essentially their boss. If they do a poor job then citizens will have the power to affect change.
A private company cares about making money. That’s it. Senator Sanders repeatedly pointed out that without Obamacare an insurance company could refuse to cover someone if they find out they have cancer. This sounds horrible and inhumane, but they won’t do it because there is no money in covering someone in a pre-existing condition.
Republicans love to warn about the dangers of “big government.” And there is always a risk that government will overstep its authority and violate the rights and privileges of its citizens. But the U.S. government is by no means some corrupt entity who must constantly be prevented from oppressing the people of the country. Most of the workers in federal agencies are simply doing their best to help the people they serve.
The government taking an active role in healthcare is not as dangerous to our democratic way of life as the government taking an active role in monitoring its citizens through an organization like the NSA. That is an area where it would be beneficial to reduce the power of government. But as all other major industrialized countries in the world guarantee healthcare coverage to all its people, it is clear that government control of healthcare is not a problem.
In the case of healthcare, government regulations are often beneficial. Allowing young adults to stay on their parent’s plan until they are 26 helps them save money and start out on the right foot. Preventing companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions saves lives. Medicaid expansion and subsidy assistance helped 20 million more people get health insurance and saved an estimated tens of thousands of lives. If we take it further and guarantee coverage for all, there is no doubt we will be saving thousands more lives every year.
No one would argue that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. It would probably work better if Republicans hadn’t fought it from day one and denied the expansion of Medicaid in 19 states. But the way forward is not to scrap it and leave citizens at the mercy of insurance companies. Healthcare is a right we should guarantee to all citizens, and we will never be able to achieve that through privatization.
Jacob Kowalski is a weekly columnist to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org