THE US President, Barack Obama, was clearly relieved by the passage of his health-care reforms through Congress: “Today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health-care system that works for insurance companies but not for ordinary people.” The fight for the Bill has been one of the toughest of recent years, provoking bitter attacks from opponents and throwing up an astonishing amount of misrepresentation, so that, even now, few Americans have a clear idea of the contents of the Bill.
One reason for the intensity of the debate is that the issue touches many sensitive points in US politics. Not the least is race: at present, only 10.4 per cent of white Americans are without health insurance. This compares with 16.8 per cent of Asians, 19.5 per cent of Blacks, and 32.1 per cent of Hispanics. Since the Government’s intention is to fund the changes through greater taxes for the better off, this plays least well in the racially divided states of the South, most of them Republican strongholds.
Fundamentally, though, the debate has been portrayed as a clash of ideologies — largely, it must be said, by opponents of the Bill, who found it hard to argue against it on practical grounds: “We have resisted extending health care to 32 million Americans: vote for us.” The grip that the insurance companies and the private health-care industry have on the US system has been presented as a bastion of freedom; the requirement that people buy their own health care, if they can, is in the great spirit of individu-alism. Whatever threatens these can be labelled “socialism”.
Naturally, if sadly, the Church in the US is as divided by ideology as the rest of society. One coalition has supported the Bill throughout, regardless of its flaws: “Turning back now could mean justice delayed for another generation and an unprecedented opportunity lost.” Others, such as the Renew America organisation, take a different line: “Fellow Catholics, we are confronted with evil the likes of which we have never encountered before. . . Will we take the side of those carrying out Lenin’s prescription for destroying a society by debauching its currency, or will we affirm Winston Churchill, who wrote that ‘the destiny of man is not measured by material computation’?” etc.
What is most alarming about the tenor of this debate is not the prospect of continued opposition to each stage of the health-care reforms, state by state, with a view to a greater reversal after the mid-term elections in November. It is the revelation of the fractured nature of US politics. President Obama’s appeal to the parties to work together to produce a popular, workable health-care system is a distant memory. The Republicans were never going to help a political opponent bring in a scheme that would benefit millions and thus provide the Democrats with millions of grateful votes. As a result, the Bill had to be fought for, clause by clause, and is a worse piece of legislation as a result.