Little Teadrinker has had an ear infection this week initiating us into the wonders of US health care. Having taken our lead from Campusvillemoms.com, we chose a recommended pediatrician down the road who works from a primary care clinic. The clinic is open 7 days a week and has specialists from 35 fields, all available at short notice. An impressive array of educational toys and a tropical fish-tank kept us entertained in the waiting room, although within 5 minutes we were whisked away by a nurse in Mini Mouse scrubs for a temperature check and a weigh-in. Next it was straight to Dr Kim for an unrushed and comprehensive examination. After writing a prescription for antibiotics she typed up a detailed note containing a number of practical tips for managing the pain until the antibiotics kicked in. We were asked to come back in ten days for a follow up, and booked in for comprehensive 9-month and 12-month check-ups.
It seems that for those able to access it, US healthcare provides a top-rate service. Contrasted with the sort of treatment we have been used to on the NHS, it is nothing less than luxurious. Obama’s Health Reform Bill, much of which came into force last week, promises millions of less well off American families access to such services for the first time.
Stunning as it might seem to a Teadrinking Mom from the old country, the Bill is proving one of the most divisive in years. The latest polls show that over half of the country are opposed. A majority believe that it will benefit the poor exclusively, and that they’ll pay the price in taxes. Two thirds don’t think it will benefit them at all. Most shockingly, 1in 3 elderly people still claim to be influenced by the ludicrous socialist death panel accusations which were put about by some of the rightwing press and members of the Tea Party last year. The Republicans say that if they do well enough in the November Mid-term elections they will repeal the Act.
Its tempting to put this down to a political culture that is instinctively more individualist and hostile to the state than we are used to in Europe, where the ethos of collective responsibility is generally an accepted wisdom. (See Seymour Lipset’s 1996 book on American Exceptionalism for a brilliant explanation of the roots of these values). Wasn’t Obama always going to struggle, as Bill Clinton did before him, with a Bill that prioritised state regulation as a means for helping the poor?
There must be more to it than this though. After all, America voted for Obama only two years ago and healthcare reform was one of his stated priorities. The proposed reforms are small fry compared to welfarist policies successfully sold to the American electorate in the past such as the introduction of social security.
What’s more, the Democrats have made a good crack of ensuring that the reforms benefit the many and not just the few. Their analysis shows that the estimated $940 billion outlay will be more than recovered over 10 years through a package of measures in the bill, although some contest their figures. And there will be a serious clamp down on the most ruthless practices of insurance companies that anybody can fall prey to. No longer will US parents have to endure sleepless nights because they can’t get cover for a daughter with a minor long-term health issue, or can’t foot the bill for a chronically ill son who’s been dropped by an insurer who deems them too costly.
A quick Campusville dinner party poll reveals a good deal of consensus about what’s really going on: the Democrats are failing to get their message across to “the squeezed middle”. A plethora of books have come out on the subject in the last couple of months penned by US politico-celebrities such as Arianna Huffington, Robert Reich and Joan Williams. The thinking is that majority in the middle of the income distribution, and most particularly the white lower-middle/working class, have seen their lifestyles and opportunities decline over the last 30 years and are now being pushed to the limit by the economic crisis. They are in no mood for listening to reasoned arguments by mainstream politicians, least of all Democrats.
A little more scrutiny is needed before we accept this theory. Nonetheless, it is unusual for Americans to make a class analysis - more often they seem to think of class as a quaint British habit, that has no meaning the Land of the Free. The fact that they are arguing now that a significant class fault-line has emerged seems worth focusing on. If they are right, the Health Reform Bill won’t be the last we see of it. One for Teadrinking Mom to return to...