Obamacare. Just what is it?

Lucy Newman, Obama Eagle Staff Reporter

Lately there has been a lot of debate amongst politicians and friends over a policy called the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The law, passed in 2010, is supposed to be taking effect at this time, but has been unfortunately met some technological challenges. The law was passed by only Democrats; Republicans, particularly the radically conservative section of the Republican party known as the Tea Party, has been firmly against it.

The law’s aim is to ensure that all Americans can get medical care when they need it. Prior to the law, there were about 50 million people in America who did not have healthcare insurance. This means that if they got a serious illness, they would often fall into financial distress. Insurance companies do not take on people who already have an illness, known as a “pre-existing condition.” Doing so is not profitable for the companies, but it is essential for these people to have insurance.

Obamacare is trying to fix all of this. Americans will now have incentive to purchase healthcare insurance if they can afford it, and the government will be providing it if they can’t. Increasing the number of people buying insurance will decrease the cost for each person, since everyone will be contributing. People with pre-existing conditions will no longer be discriminated against for insurance.

Of course, like any structural change, the Affordable Care Act has caused discussion and debate.

It is not new that there is controversy in Washington over health care. In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson radically altered the role of government by making it responsible for providing healthcare insurance to the poor (Medicaid) and to the elderly (Medicare). Johnson met a lot of opposition at the time, though the fact that two policies exist have now become accepted by most Americans. Some still debate whether to have the government or private companies fund them, but most politicians realize that Americans have come to depend on the benefits they offer.

The Clinton administration was the first powerful government entity to attempt to create a law based on the idea that healthcare should be a universal right for all Americans. Hillary Clinton, in particular, drew opposition by going beyond the traditional role of first lady in pushing for health care with her husband President Bill Clinton.

The conflict concerning Obamacare has been especially heated, with both sides staying firm to their beliefs. Even after the law was passed, the law’s opposition continued to attempt to have it removed. States opposed to the law took it to the US Supreme Court, but the court said that the law was constitutional. This means that the is legal according to the Constitution, the document that establishes the most fundamental set of rules for the United States. But this does not stop the Tea Party conservatives from trying to have the law repealed, or cancelled. They had the government shut down and almost drove the US into economic ruin all in hopes that the Democrats would postpone Obamacare.

But the Democrats were not willing to compromise on this issue. They were willing to make other political sacrifices, but Obamacare was not an issue that either side would give in on.

And that is not a good thing. There are bad things as well as good things about Obamacare, and the Democrats are often too stubborn to admit this. For example, there is a part of the law that says that businesses of a certain size (the equivalent of 50 full-time employees) have to provide insurance for workers who work more than 30 hours a week. This hurts owners of medium-sized businesses, particularly restaurants, since restaurants require a lot of employees to run. Some businesses may have to lay off people or stop hiring in order to stay below the 50 employee threshold.

The Democrats have been benefiting politically from the excessive stubbornness of the Republicans. Ted Cruz has recently gained prominence and infamy for his hardline opposition to the act, talking for 21 hours to delay anything else from happening in congress and comparing opposing Obamacare to opposing Nazi Germany.

Further, the Republican party has become split over the issue of affordable health care, a fact that may help the democrats in the 2014 midterm elections or in the 2016 presidential election. The Tea Party, the most conservative faction, has remained stubbornly opposed to the act despite increasing resistance. Moderate Republicans have become frustrated with their colleagues.

But in the end, both parties have made fools of themselves. The worst of it for the Democrats is that the Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov, is still not working. It was supposed to be up by October 1st, but there are technical issues that have still not been sorted out. Obama has sent out a public announcement describing different ways of enrolling including by phone, but it is still an embarrassment to the government and a frustration to the people trying to enroll.

We will have to wait out the political chaos to see how effective the Affordable Care Act will be. It is hard to tell at this point, but the act has the potential to do a lot of good for American democracy. This country was built on the idea that each person deserves the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Obamacare will hopefully save the lives of many people who would otherwise be unable to take care of themselves when they are sick.