Last month the government-run HealthCare.gov website, a key component of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, made a messy debut. So far news coverage has focused on the technical problems plaguing the site, and discussions among conservative political thinkers have congealed around the idea of defunding “Obamacare”. The Health Exchanges are being called disastrous, a joke, and a meltdown, just to list a few epithets being thrown around by opponents of the policy.
It is easy to get caught up in conversation about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout and implementation is going, but it seems that such a dialogue overshadows the more necessary conversation of why healthcare is important.
At its most basic level, the ACA seeks to deliver affordable, accessible healthcare to all persons, especially for those who previously couldn’t afford it. These three key words- affordable, accessible, and all persons- merit further discussion and closer inspection.
The concept of affordability is currently a large point of contention. Critics of “Obamacare” claim that premiums will increase by an average of 99 percent for men and 55 percent for women. To many, this drastic increase in cost seems to be an injustice, an economic burden that is intolerable to the average American. These increases reflect increases caused by the creation of new facilities, the extra administration needed for the new system, and a sudden spike in demand for products.
The second is accessibility, which goes hand in hand with affordability. People need to be able to buy insurance to help with their care, as well as have access to preventative and primary care options. Because of regulations in the new ACA, 190 new renovation projects have begun on existing medical facilities, and 67 completely new sites are being built to serve the people, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. These new projects and renovations will help provide care to over 3 million more people at community health centers.
The third segment of affordable healthcare is an assurance of service to all persons, even to those who previously couldn’t afford it. At its core, the ACA makes the case that everyone has a right to healthcare. This idea of a right to care flows out of an understanding of human flourishing, which encompasses all parts of life- mental, physical, spiritual, and societal. Healthcare itself is not a part of flourishing, but good health is a universally accepted sign of human flourishing. At a recent event about the new healthcare regulations, Elizabeth Teisberg, a professor at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine and Center for Health Care Delivery Science, said, “We spell [healthcare] as one word. As one word it’s treatment and you don’t really want it. It’s two words, it’s health and care- and they both really matter. The good is health. You only care about healthcare if you think it will get you more health.”
While there will always be disagreement about the most effective way to deliver healthcare, it is a necessary element of public justice. The Center for Public Justice articulates the role of government in upholding “the common good of the political community in its own right, which includes protecting citizens from domestic and foreign injustice.” If as a nation we claim to seek the common good and flourishing of all citizens, we must have programs and policies in place that ensure available health care. Public justice doesn’t dictate the specifics of proposed legislation. But it does require that we value the health of our neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable.
The concept of affordable, accessible care for all is rooted in the concept of human dignity that a public justice perspective promotes. Discussions and debates over the merits and faults of policies are not only understandable, they are vital to the process of finding solutions for the problems encountered by society. Legislation is rarely perfect on the first attempt, and consideration of how it can be improved must continue.
However, in our deliberations, we must continually remember the value of human dignity, and ensure that policies pass contribute to human flourishing. As Christians we have a responsibility to do justice and love mercy. The biblical mandate for justice requires that all concerns and needs be given at least some voice and credence. So, the next time someone starts decrying increased insurance premiums or faulty web-coding, keep in mind the inherent dignity of everyone in our society. Expand the conversation beyond hasty criticisms to explore whether or not legislation is truly doing justice and promoting the dignity of all people.
-Dirk Oudman is a senior at Dordt College, where he studies political science and communications.