“Obamacare” fight could determine nation’s future

The last two weeks of March saw intense media and public attention focused on the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known, now with the administration’s approval, as “Obamacare.” The March 23 second anniversary of passage of the national health care law was closely followed by an unprecedented three days of hearings by the Supreme Court on challenges to its constitutionality.

Health care advocacy groups organized hundreds of events around the country celebrating Obamacare, emphasizing personal stories of real people benefitting from the law two years into its multi-year implementation. The recent onslaught of attacks on abortion and insurance coverage for contraception, which the right wing has repeatedly used to derail and undermine the ACA, has brought women’s organizations into the forefront of the struggle. Women of all ages stand to benefit most from the many provisions of the health care law that expand preventive services and coverage under public and private insurance, as well as greater regulation of the insurance industry to outlaw some of the worst abuses. Health care advocacy and women’s groups are building alliances and working together to a greater extent than ever before, as demonstrated by this San Francisco rally on March 23 titled: “The Affordable Care Act: Women Get It!”

An array of national organizations organized a huge presence outside the Supreme Court during the three days of hearings, including press conferences on the steps of the Court by health providers, advocates for women’s health and rights, and faith groups, among others, all expressing their strong support for the ACA. Thousands of supporters with signs, some in costumes, filled the sidewalks and parks surrounding the court in a carnival-like atmosphere. Opponents from anti-abortion groups, the Tea Party and others were there, too, of course, but were generally outnumbered by supporters of the law. The outcome of the case is uncertain and likely to be somewhat inconclusive, with a decision expected by the end of June, but the ACA remains the law of the land. Supporters of the ACA continue to push for the ongoing implementation of the law.

However, the dangers from the widespread and organized opposition to the law should not be underestimated. This fight needs to be looked at in the context of the bigger, rougher national argument over what kind of country and what kind of people we are going to be. That is a battle that is ripping all through America and has been for the past several years.

This is not simply an argument over health care policies, such as whether the individual mandate the best or right way to go. This is an argument over whether or not everyone has the right to participate in our society. Are we going to have a health care system that works for everyone? Social insurance means everyone gets it because everyone needs it, so everyone has to contribute and help pay for it. The right-wing opposition to the ACA says, no, that we cannot make that happen through any action on any level of our government.

Theda Skocpol summed up what’s at stake in a recent article in Dissent Magazine where she concluded:

It will not do for liberals to engage in backward-looking self-congratulation or hold out for pie-in-the-sky perfection or underestimate the rational fierceness of the opposition they face. Progressives need to stop focusing on what was left out of Affordable Care and understand that the law is a redistributive and regulatory breakthrough worth fighting for. Going forward from 2012, Americans are either going to have more broadly shared health care paid for in part through taxes that hit the wealthy along with others or we are going to endure increasingly bitter battles over dwindling healthcare spending, while the super rich use ballooning tax cuts to build bigger mansions and rig elections. Small turns can prove irreversible, and 2012 has all the markings of such a critical juncture.

Photo: Attendees at a celebration of the two-year anniversary of the ACA at a neighborhood health clinic in Cleveland. People’s World