The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” is destined to be one of the most controversial legislative acts of the 21st century. It is both a symbol of compassion and good intentions, as well as a monument to the complexity of a modern society with conflicting goals and philosophies.
Supporters claim that it can lead to affordable healthcare for all Americans for the first time in the nation’s history, while detractors believe it may destroy the national healthcare system and bankrupt the country. What is the truth?
Brief History of the ACA
American presidents and congresses have wrestled with the paradox that is our healthcare system since the end of World War II. As a result of World War II wage controls, the system has evolved into one of the country’s largest industries, employing almost 17 million workers in more than 784,000 healthcare companies, including over 6,500 hospitals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2020, healthcare costs will consume 20% of the nation’s GDP.
By the turn of the century, business leaders, politicians, and citizens recognized that the existing healthcare system was not sustainable and, if left unchecked, would ultimately bankrupt the country. Its high costs reduce American competitiveness in world markets, limit wage and salary increases to workers, and force many to forgo health insurance altogether. Everyone agreed that the system was broken – but how best to fix it?
Velta Lewis died the morning of May 15th in the arms of her husband in the home they had purchased upon retiring three years previously. Her death, nine months after the diagnosis of lung cancer, occurred shortly before the couple expected to celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary during a two-week trip to Paris. My father was devastated. Over the following weeks, I would find him sitting alone in their darkened family room – no television, no radio, no conversation to break the silence – staring with red-rimmed eyes into the past, trails of tears upon his cheeks.
If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you understand how grief can stun, even take you to your knees. In the midst of your own pain, it is easy to forget others who suffer. However, in the case of a parent whose spouse has died, it is at this time that your strength and compassion is most needed.
Members of the Greatest Generation were no strangers to death. My dad had experienced the passing of his grandmother as a young boy, and witnessed her body resting in the parlor of their house for final viewing, as was the custom in those days. He had spent almost a year in Europe during World War II, losing buddies to the ravages of battle. In the ensuing years, he and my mother buried parents, relatives, and friends, the funerals becoming more frequent as they grew older. They were religious people, neither fearing death, sure of their place in eternity.
But generally, the natural order of life is for husbands to go first, not wives. They had worked and saved over the years, expecting to enjoy 5 to 10 years of travel and seeing grandchildren before Dad’s time to go. Mother dying first was unnatural in the grand scheme of things – unlikely, but not impossible. In fact, according to the U.S. Census figures in 2012, husbands are 3.2 times more likely to die before their wives, with 36.9% of women older than 65 widowed compared to 11.5% of men over age 65 who are widowers. To my father, all of their shared preparations for their final days were suddenly pointless.