Updated: July 30, 2012 6:17AM
Eric Hincks turned 19 on Thursday, and the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Midlothian teen something extra special: continued access to his parents’ health insurance, needed to cover treatment for his Type I diabetes.
“Oh, God,” his mother, Jean, said after the ruling became public Thursday morning. “It’s the best birthday present for my son ever in his life.”
In a ruling that defied the expectations of many, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court nevertheless upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that Americans have health insurance — the central tenet of “ObamaCare” and the major accomplishment of Barack Obama’s administration.
Diabetic since age 10, without ObamaCare, Eric could find getting insurance nearly impossible. Under the law, Eric and 50 million other Americans are guaranteed access to health care, despite pre-existing conditions, or unemployment, or working for a company that doesn’t offer insurance to employees.
The law had been immediately challenged, with 26 states suing the federal government, claiming it is unconstitutional to require Americans to buy insurance. This the court rejected.
Medical professionals hailed the ruling.
“The legislation is not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve been able to pass in decades,” said Dr. Monica Peek, an assistant professor of medicine at The University of Chicago Medicine.
“It’s going to provide peace of mind and security for whole middle class during these tough economic times,” said Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care, the state’s largest health-care advocacy organization. “Small businesses can find some stability now on health care, can maximize tax credits that will help their health-care costs. Anyone with a pre-existing condition can be helped. No longer will the insurance industry be stuck between you and your doctor or nurse.”
Of course, the high court’s decision is not the end of the political controversy. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to overturn the law on his first day in office. House Speaker John Boehner vowed to work immediately to dismantle it.
Incredibly, despite helping 1/6 of the country, the Supreme Court decision is not a popular one, yet. Americans seem convinced that unfettered private insurance offers free choice, while government-influenced health care somehow constitutes oppression.
“We told ourselves that, oh, the Canadian system has these long waits for elective surgery — we have queues in our system, too. We have waits, we have inequity, not based on need, but based on social demographic,” said Peek. “In this country, you’re in line if you’re poor. You’re in line if you’re living in a rural area. That does not make sense. We should be making health-care decisions based on clinical necessity, not based on who is more advantaged, who has more income, who has contacts. We have an inequitable system, it’s just not official.”
Why has the public been so slow to recognize the need for health-care reform?
“People want to always identify with the best-case scenario,” said Peek. “We’re a pull-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps people. The working class wants to identify with people who have more affluence because they can get there, too. They think: ‘It doesn’t matter if poor don’t have health insurance because I want to be in the class who can get MRIs on demand.’
“We have the idea we have free choice, that health care is not affected by external forces,” she continued. “It’s a fallacy. Those decisions are made by health-insurance companies.”
With the Supreme Court decision, health-care reform can now go forward.
“Let’s make clinical care based on best practices, with evidence-based guidelines, as opposed to for-profit companies making decisions based entirely on cost, she said. “If I had to choose between the two making those decisions, I choose the government.”
This helps put the U.S. in line with the rest of the world in terms of health care.
“Everyone else [around the world] thinks it’s ludicrous for our health-care system to be the way it is,” Peek said. “Many other nations, with far fewer resources, are able to provide a modicum of health-care coverage. It’s embarrassing. It makes no sense for a country with the kind of resources we have not to invest in our country’s health and our future, to not behave in a way that is fair and equitable for our citizens.”
Randy Greenberg lived with ulcerative colitis for 18 years before ObamaCare, and for the past 18 months has been able to purchase insurance.
“Oh, my God, it’s a whole different life,” he said. “Even though I’m paying a super-high premium, I can go for an X-ray if I need one.”