Historic health-care reform in U.S.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a historic bill this past Sunday, in a vote of 220-211, that would overhaul the American health-care system. The move is being hailed the “civil rights act of the 21st Century.”

The vote came after last-minute negotiations with the White House and an exhausting struggle to whip the Democrat party together on the legislation. This is because Democratic support was threatened by a group of anti-abortion Democrats who demonstrated considerable concern over the bill possibly allowing federal funds to be used for abortion services.

Only after President Barack Obama promised to issue an executive order preventing such funding, the group of Democrats voted for the bill. Overall, 33 Democrats sided with the Republicans and voted against the bill. Nonetheless, the bill passed – needing only 216 votes – and is the final step in Obama’s fight for introducing universal health care to the United States.
In total, the bill is estimated to cost the government $938 billion over the next 10 years. This cost is expected to be partially offset by increasing taxes for American families earning over $250,000 a year, as well as taxing companies who have the highest premiums for employee’s health-care plans.

Further, the bill contains reforms that will be phased in over the next several years. For instance, in 2014, employers with over 50 employees will face fines for not providing adequate insurance coverage. Similarly, in 2014, people with pre-existing health conditions will no longer be allowed to be denied coverage.

However, other reforms will be enacted much sooner. Within the next year, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage to children with pre-existing medical problems.
Similarly, children will be allowed to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until the age of 26; previously, it was only until the age of 18 or 19. Moreover, insurance providers will not be allowed to suddenly cancel insurance policies for individuals who fall ill.

The uninsured will benefit the most from the legislation, as nearly 85 per cent of Americans already receive coverage through their employer. The bill will provide coverage for an estimated 32 million Americans who do not have health-care insurance, including those who cannot afford the expensive premiums and those who have been dropped by their insurance providers for being too ill. Nonetheless, there are many changes to the health-care system that will benefit the general population.

Over the past year, the United States has been torn over the health-care debate, with opponents arguing that the U.S. cannot afford such a massive overhaul and that the government already possesses such a large role in citizen’s lives.

Despite intense discouragement over the issue, President Obama crusaded relentlessly for the reform.

He called the bill “a victory for common sense” and congratulated the American people late Sunday night for having the courage to support this crucial piece of social reform.

Obama stated, “When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenges. We overcame them. We did not avoid our responsibilities, we embraced it. We did not fear our future, we shaped it.”

A global look at health care

When weighing options for health-care reform, considering global alternatives is crucial.

French citizens benefit from “couverture maladie universelle” (universal health care). In 1945, a public health insurance program was established in France for legal residents. Today, this insurance system covers 80 per cent of citizens. In order to fund such a system, 20 per cent is deducted from worker’s salaries. While the state oversees the management of these funds, the employer and union federations control the finances. Around 75 per cent of health-care expenses are covered by this system.

The German health-care system is decentralized. In light of this, German hospitals can be public, private non-profit or private for-profit. Interestingly, several hospitals are even run by Catholic and Protestant churches. For German citizens, it is essential to have a personal health insurance plan. As such, Germans are automatically signed up for a state regulated plan, but can opt out for a private plan. Those individuals with an income exceeding $3,933 CAD per month are eligible to apply for private health care. As for the unemployed and those earning a low income, health-care coverage is provided by the state. In order to fund the health-care system, 14 per cent of employee gross salary is deducted from those supported by the state-regulated insurance.

Australia’s federal and state governments fund 47 and 23 per cent of the country’s health-care system respectively. Non-government sources cover the remainder of the costs. This system fully reimburses the cost of public hospital and doctor visits. When a patient sees a doctor, the doctor either bills the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) or the individual. While private hospitals also exist in Australia, they do not have emergency services. Therefore, Australians must rely on public hospitals in cases of emergency.

-Deanna Sim