ON 23 MARCH, United States President Barack Obama signed a landmark healthcare bill into law. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan watchdog of government spending, the legislation will cover 32 million uninsured Americans. Anyone who’s ever seen the inside of an American hospital emergency room—where the indigent and uninsured suffer through panic attacks and nurse gaping wounds—can probably agree this is a significant achievement. I’d be more excited by the bill, but I am fatigued by the two years of dirty politics that preceded this announcement. I was also hoping for more substantial change.
When I left New York City for India in September 2009, the debate over healthcare reform dominated the news. Viewers were subjected to the paint by numbers, liberal/conservative point/counterpoint ping-ponging that passes for political discourse. Under the guise of equal time, TV journalists provided Republican talking heads airtime to present factually incorrect doomsday scenarios.
The conservative opposition to the bill could broadly be segregated into pro-market arguments (the deceptive) and conspiracy theories (the insane). The former view held that we should not focus on healthcare at a time when the economy needs fixing. This premise was floated despite the clear correlation between businesses having access to affordable healthcare and a robust manufacturing sector. Take, for example, the effect of socialised medicine on the automobile industry. Michigan, the state most associated with building cars, had been losing ground to Ontario, the neighbouring Canadian province, for the past decade. The difference is clear: building cars in a location with socialised medicine offered a benefit of approximately 1,525 dollars per car (2005 numbers). Expressed another way, US car companies are spending more money per car on worker’s health insurance than they are on steel.
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