By Sharon Lerner
Let's call today family day, since all families should be rejoicing about the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obama's health care law. I know I am. The law increases coverage for more than 30 million uninsured Americans, including children who were legally denied because they had preexisting conditions. It provides billions of dollars of prescription drug benefits for seniors. It ends lifetime limits on coverage. And it lets us keep our adult kids on our insurance plans til they're 26.
The only hitch seems to be that the court gave states some wiggle room to not expand their Medicaid programs, which the law had said should include people with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. We'll undoubtedly soon see what that will mean for low-income families.
Still, to every American who has, is, or was a child: congratulations!
But as we're breathing a collective sigh of relief (and Republicans are vowing to repeal), we also need to be thinking about why the challenge to this major, common sensical advance happened in the first place. And, for that, I invoke the New Hampshire license plate.
A few days before the health care decision (or BHCD, as I've come to think of it), my six-year-old son, Sam, spotted this relatively rare (for us New Yorkers) plate. This has been the season of learning about state mottos in our family and he was pleased, if puzzled, to encounter a new one. "Live free or die," he read aloud from the car in front of ours. "What does that mean?"
I took the opportunity of his being strapped into captivity to prattle on a bit about early America. I want to give my kids a sense of our country's complicated history and began explaining that some colonists felt so passionately about getting independence from England they were willing to go to war. Although Sam soon glazed over and moved on to counting mini Coopers, I found myself stewing over this bit of righteous license plate rhetoric, and what it had to do with challenge to health care.
For me, the support of the health law is a no-brainer mostly because it'll leave more families with health care. I've thought and written about what happens to uninsured people for years. I know that some 45,000 deaths a year can be attributed to a lack of health coverage. While that can seem an unfathomable number, I know it represents actual humans. Since I was a kid, my mother, a pediatric nurse who works in some of our city's poorest neighborhoods, has regaled me with stories of her patients going without treatments because their families can't afford them.
I also know that mothers are more likely to be uninsured than either women without children or men. This is largely because private health insurance is tied to full-time employment, a fact that not only leaves mothers and often their children in medically risky limbo but also affects how we work. Sixty-two percent of mothers with children at home who work full-time would prefer part-time work and many of them don't because reducing their hours would mean losing their-and often their children's-health benefits.
In my ideal world, we would have a single-payer health system, so health care could be de-linked from jobs, everyone would be covered, and we wouldn't be wasting more than $156 billion dollars of health care spending on insurance costs. (By the way, private insurance companies, in turn, spend tens of millions of those dollars on lobbying Congress each year and have already donated more than $1 million to Romney. Along with other critics of the health care law, they've already spent more than $235 million fighting it, money that's effectively swayed public opinion.)
Although the Affordable Care Act left these unnecessary middlemen in place, kept employment as a route to insurance, and will leave millions uninsured, I still embrace it. Now we can let our adult children stay on our policies until they're 26! In 2014, we will be able to get insurance even if we were pregnant or had breast cancer! It will be illegal to deny us coverage just because we had a C-Section! Finally we're inching toward the rest of the developed world by providing health coverage to more Americans. And I desperately want that.
My support for health reform is so clear, it's been hard to understand why anyone would oppose the new law, let alone file a legal challenge to it, as 26 State Attorneys General did. Do they honestly think that some people deserve to go without treatment because they lose their job-or work for a stingy or cash-strapped employer? Do they really believe it's okay to deny health insurance to someone with, say, cancer just because she's had it for a while? Or on the grounds that pregnancy is a pre-existing condition?
Even though the law has withstood this challenge, we're going to need to understand how Republican health care haters, who are now vowing to repeal the law, think. And this is where the license plate comes back in. Despite a few unseemly exceptions, it does seem possible that much of the popular anger that led to this supreme challenge case is based not on sadism but on a dumbed-down notion of freedom-the kind so simplistic it might be boiled down to a four-word license plate slogan.
There are plenty of reasons it's absurd to pretend that opposition to "Obamacare" is based on principle, beginning with the fact that the Republican nominee who now vows to get rid of what's left of the law instituted an almost-identical health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts. (The individual mandate that was almost invalidated at the behest of many Republicans has actually "been at the heart of Republican health care reforms for two decades," as Ezra Klein points out in the New Yorker.) And then there's the problematic reality that most of the people who oppose "Obama-care" don't actually know what it entails.
But the most frustrating part of this excruciating exercise has been this twisted notion of freedom. This isn't freedom from slavery, on which abolitionists staked their lives, or even freedom from a colonial power, which Patrick Henry (who may be referenced by the license plate) was talking about. No, this attack on health care was based, in theory, on freedom of purchasing power and, in reality, on freedom from responsibility for our fellow citizens.
As for the principled part, Henry was talking about his own life when he was demanding to be given liberty or death; he was willing to sacrifice himself for what he believed in. Alhough deaths would have resulted if they'd struck down the law, they wouldn't, for the most part, have been among the people who took this "principled stand." The people behind this policy reversal were apparently willing to have other people die for their principled belief.
Luckily, it looks as though that won't happen. So, I'm going to celebrate our victory-and tell Sam about this historic day, when decency prevailed over some silly slogans.
Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we've chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they-and you!-are most passionate about.
This article first appeared on Parents.com.