Bitter partisan conflict has long divided the United States over its citizens’ access to healthcare services. Given the massive infrastructure and corresponding bureaucracy of insurance companies and healthcare providers, any significant change to the healthcare industry in the United States takes an enormous investment of human labor. Partnerships between health insurance companies and employers have long since privatized most aspects of health insurance coverage in the United States, meaning the unemployed (as well as many part-time staff) are unable to utilize healthcare services unless they pay for them completely out-of-pocket.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was meant to address this discrepancy by mandating that employers with more than 50 full-time staff must provide health insurance coverage for their full-time staff. Employers who opt out will be obligated to pay a substantial financial penalty per uninsured worker. The mandate also extends to individuals without insurance, who are obligated under the Affordable Care Act to purchase government-subsidized health insurance coverage. Just like employers who opt out of offering health insurance to their full-time staff, individuals who opt out of purchasing health insurance will have to pay a financial penalty ($95 or 1% of their income, whichever is higher).
Though the Affordable Care Act represents a significant step toward providing health insurance to all U.S. citizens, it has been subject to partisan attacks at every juncture. House Speaker John Boehner has called for dozens of votes to repeal the law despite the fact that it has remained on the books each time. Understandably, insurance companies in the United States are anxious over what a public option would do to their premiums, as well as how many subscribers would switch to a model in which a portion of their taxes go towards funding their medical care.
Universal healthcare is the norm for modern industrialized nations. 32 of 33 developed nations presently have some form of universal healthcare coverage, with the United States being the lone exception. There are a number of benefits for consumers of healthcare services under a universal care model, the most prominent being that a person’s life savings is not at risk if the person becomes ill or is seriously injured. Most nations with universal coverage base their funding source on public taxation, which means that these nations often have higher income tax rates than the U.S. There are substantial corporate benefits as well. When employers no longer directly bear the costs of insuring their employees and that health insurance is instead funded through national taxation, businesses’ operating costs tend to be considerably lower. If the Affordable Care Act is able to take root in the consciousness of the American people, true universal coverage may not be far behind.