Lesson #26 : American government and politics: The Affordable Health Act

Further down on my FB page there is a photo of a thirty-four year old woman holding up a sign thanking President Barak Obama for proposing and passing Health Care Reform. This Affordable Health Act, affectionately known as ObamaCare, enfranchised, in one fell swoop, 50 million Americans who did not have the financial resources necessary to sustain medical insurance for themselves and their families, including their children. A segment of the newly-enfranchised would be classified as the working poor, and, like the woman in the photo, do not have medical insurance offered in their workplaces.


Hence ObamaCare is socialized medicine which simply makes it possible for a citizen or legal immigrant to obtain basic medical services for free. Even though Canadian Medicare is more wide ranging than its American counterpart, passage of the Affordable Health Act, which was way too long in coming, is most definitely a step in the right direction.

Notice the tense of the infinitive “to be” in the sentence preceding this one. I said that the passage of the Affordable Health Act ‘is’ a step in the right direction; that means that the act has already been passed by both the House and the Senate, after having been cobbled together by the President, his cabinet and other of his advisors. Yet some House Republicans, in an effort to either de-fund Obamacare or to delay its further implementation, are refusing to pass the budget thus effectively shutting down the American federal government and thereby causing a large number of government workers to be laid off (furloughed). People stop getting paid and are sent home, museums and national parks are closed, the payment of government subsidies and federal loans to small business are delayed as is the arrival of welfare cheques and other outlays for social programmes, including, ironically, for Medicare. In addition, all civilians working in federal government departments in D.C. and across the country have also been laid off.

The President proposed Health Reform and sent it to Congress for approval. Both houses of Congress then passed the Affordable Care Act which came into law early last week. Now the House of Representatives is refusing to pass the budget. At first the House was arguing that the introduction of ObamaCare had to be delayed for a year; they are gradually moving away from this demand as polls show popular support for the Republicans plummeting. The Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, has already passed the budget.

So in this case we see a split between the two legislative houses – the Senate which has passed the budget and the Republicans who continue to withhold their support. As we have seen, this split could not occur in Canada, because our Senate, as an appointed body, cannot in practice veto laws which have been passed by the elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons, whereas the American Senate, (which, unlike our Senate has real legislative power) – can do what it likes – either sanction, veto, or delay the passage of bills coming to it either from the President or from the House. Their House has the same rights when it comes to bills (i.e. proposed laws) arriving from the President or the Senate.

Another difference between our parliamentary system and the Presidential system in the United States has allowed the shut down to happen and that is the fact that our executive – the Prime Minister along with the cabinet – actually have seats in the House of Commons whereas the President and his cabinet are divorced, structurally, from the American legislature and therefore do not have seats in either the House or the Senate. (Yesterday’s JuicyLessonperday – #25 – deals with this situation in more detail.)

In a majority government situation in Canada, any bill proposed by our executive is guaranteed to be approved by the Commons in the vast majority of cases which are characterized by block voting. On the rare occasions when a free vote is held, when M.P.’s have been given the chance to vote on issues like gay marriage, capital punishment or abortion, for example, anything can happen but this, as I have already stated, is a rare occurrence.

The Saskatchewan provincial government became the first to introduce Medicare. This occurred way back in 1947 during the N.D.P. administration of Premier Tommy Douglas. Quebec adopted its Hospital Insurance Plan (QHIP) in 1962 during our Quiet Revolution expanding it to full Medicare about a decade later. (The QHIP provided free medical care for hospitalized patients.)

Note that Medicare is a provincial power in Canada while being reserved for federal government jurisdiction in the United States. This situation permits the American federal government to administer the Affordable Care Act across the entire country. Whereas there are differences in Canada in the ways each province administers it’s Medicare programme, this programme has to be executed uniformly from coast to coast in the United States.

Medicare is leftist in the sense that it contributes to a more equal distribution of wealth within the society in which it operates. Therefore opposition to Medicare must come for the right, i.e. big business, private insurers, stock holders, Wall Street investment bankers and bankers in general, Republicans, Conservatives, right to lifers, and the wealthy who will see their taxes go up since it is their money which will fund Obamacare in the U.S. Beneficiaries of the system will be the American population at large who will now have access to socialized medical services. In Canada, we paint people with a radical leftist brush by calling them “socialists”; in the more conservative U.S.A. the word “liberal” does the same job. Call an American a liberal, you may as well be calling him a Communist.

Peace out.

4 responses to “Lesson #26 : American government and politics: The Affordable Health Act”

  1. Yes, you can cherry pick examples where Obamacare works. However, Obama watered it down so much it’s doesn’t come close to universal health care. If you are going to do something, you do it all the way. From what I understand there are different levels of health care in the US, so it’s still a tiered system where the rich have access to better health care.

    Finally, I personally think it was the wrong time to introduce the unaffordable care act in the US. The US is in serious debt and cannot afford health care at this time.

    • Hello Jordan, my first cousin once removed.

      Thanks for your comment. However, I disagree completely with the arguments you are making. For instance, in Quebec, Medicare wasn’t introduced all at once. The QHIP (Quebec Hospital Insurance Plan), was introduced during la Revolution tranquille period (1960 to 1970), in 1962 to be precise. The QHIP gave free access for those requiring hospital treatment while charging for doctor visits continued until about ten years later when a full system of socialized medicine became a reality here. I don’t know how it worked in Ontario or in other provinces either. It might be an interesting endeavour to check that out.

      Further, your argument about two-tiered Medicare is not that solid either. The rich have access to faster and possibly better health care in Quebec as well. They must have the same advantages all over the country where, for instance, instead of waiting months for a no-cost test or X-ray, you pay and have it done much faster.

      Also, I strongly disagree with your final point. When would be the right time then and while you’re pondering that, think of the fifty million people south of the border who didn’t have any medical insurance until the advent of the Affordable Care Act, either because they couldn’t afford it (in the majority of cases) or because they had been refused coverage by Insurance companies for various reasons, including the dreaded “pre-existing conditions” clause.

      Now as far as the American debt problem is concerned, your argument there doesn’t appear to hold water either. A healthy workforce is a better work force which will increase, in theory, the amount of money the American government will collect in both sales and income taxes as the national income rises which in turn will cause the debt to decrease.

      If it’s ok with you, I would like to use your comment and this reply as part of a future blog/FB post and, possibly,in the autobiography I am writing. Is that okay with you?

  2. I think the greater question is why does the United States not have universal healthcare? What is it in the American psyche that makes the idea of healthcare for all anathema to a large part of the American populace? Personally I think that it has to do with the myth of the “American Dream”. Work hard and you will succeed! That seems to imply that if you do not succeed it is because you did not work hard. Therefore you do not deserve to share in the “American Dream”.
    I often think about people in third world contries that do not have easy access to potable water.Imagine a family that has to travel miles in order to have water to drink, cook with, or bathe. Someone in that family is tasked to fetch the water for the family. Usually a female. That individual’s time, energy and willpower will be spent hueing water from point A to point B and back again.Is that person working hard? I would say yes.What chance will that individual have to get an education, start a business, study the arts? Obviously potable water is not a problem in the USA (even though some folks in Michigan could argue the point). However there are numerous groups in our societies (USA and Canada btw) that spend a huge portion of their time just trying to survive. Single moms, the working poor, the elderly and those that are discriminated against because of race, gender or religion.They are working hard just to survive. By depriving these people of healthcare they are presented with another obstacle to acheiving the American Dream. Americans who are against universal healthcare must embrace the idea of “there for the grace of God go I. or my brother, or my mom, or my daughter”

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