Today is Blog Action Day, a yearly event where bloggers from around the world focus on one global topic for one day. The topic for 2013 is human rights, a term that has long been a point of discussion and contention alike. The human right to health is no exception.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the right to health means “that States must generate conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible,” including access to timely and affordable healthcare. With enrollment for the Affordable Care Act commencing earlier this month, here is a fitting question to pose on Blog Action Day: is health care finally shifting from being a privilege to a basic right in the United States?
Health is widely considered to be the most basic and essential asset. Yet in the United States, 50 million people remain uninsured because of the for-profit healthcare system. Incidentally, insurance companies don’t always provide timely and affordable care. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hopes to mend some of the issues associated with obtaining health care.
Signed into law on March 23, 2010, the ACA marks a new chapter in the way individuals and employers approach healthcare. The ACA changes various parts of United States Code and adds a chapter in Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare) entitled “Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans.” From the title alone, the ACA sounds as if it will sustain the right to health stipulated by the WHO, but what does it really do? Among the strengths of the ACA is increased accessibility to healthcare providers through the marketplace, Medicaid coverage expansion and tax credits for small business owners. Conversely, much of the criticism towards Obamacare centers around meeting the cost of providing care due to the individual mandate the law enforces. Furthermore, despite subsidies and decreased premiums, millions of Americans will still be too poor to qualify for health insurance.
Not all health care is created equally, however. On the global front, the WHO ranked the U.S. 37th overall for its healthcare system. While some nations laud the Affordable Care Act, others remain perplexed at why American citizens shoulder such heavy costs for insurance. For instance in Sweden and France the national gross domestic product expenditures on health exceed 80 percent—an enormous amount compared to the U.S. health expenditure at 18 percent. Similarly, 88 percent of medications are exempt from charge in the United Kingdom, and in Canada, most health systems operate as nonprofit organizations, whereas most Americans rely on private insurance plans (if they can afford it).
To be fair, no nation has a perfect health care system, and communities and nations and the world over have specific public health concerns to address. However, it is important to note how other nations approach health care so that the U.S. has a basis of comparison for dealing with such a complex issue.
Health care has a powerful ripple effect in the way individuals, communities and nations function. Coverage for the Affordable Care Act commences as early as January 2014, and while the plan will benefit uninsured Americans, many others will continue to rally against Obamacare. As such, the ACA will not provide immediate fixes to this intricate system.
However, on Blog Action Day, we can remind ourselves that human rights are about improving conditions for all individuals, and over time, the Affordable Care Act can help move the nation towards fulfilling quality the right to health for all.
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