States’ Rites

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was in essence an act of kindness in a very cruel and forbidding landscape for everyone trying to access medical care. President Obama, through his own life experience and those whose stories were told as he campaigned for the presidency, made affordable health care a priority as it touched a chord of compassion in his life song.

We have now witnessed the national health care rollout on October 1 suffer from computer glitches, lawsuits, and, for some, broken promises that have made this law play “off key.” For those who expected a flawless performance from day one, there has indeed been disappointment. And politicians continue to exploit the term “ObamaCare” as shallow currency to buy votes, whether the voter is for or against the law. The intrinsic historical storyline occurring now cannot be ignored

“Rite of passage” is often used to describe a child maturing to an adult, accepting the responsibilities of marriage and having children, and becoming more selfless in assuming the role as a provider for his or her family. For the maturing adult, the idea is not just to take care of one’s self but to be aware of other’s needs as well.

The Affordable Care Act asks people from all walks of life, all political persuasions, religious and nonreligious alike, to become more socially responsible, even if that means sharing the burden so someone else has a chance to afford health insurance. Society benefits when more of its citizens can lead a healthy productive life.

For some, however, an old argument pervades their judgment and limits their ability to show compassion to those who have the greatest need. This country has long debated states’ rights vs. the federal government: the concept that individual states should have the right to decide what is best for its people (despite strong evidence to the contrary and a hubris that harms its population).

This was never more evident than the Civil War this country fought in the 19th century: a war, in one of its many dimensions, that pitted states in the South embracing slavery against the North’s idea of human rights. Today (and perhaps not coincidentally), the first U.S. black president has made a law to help people who cannot obtain medical insurance, to treat all citizens of the United States for physical and mental illness, and to reduce suffering and death as necessary outcomes. Nevertheless, some state governors and legislatures dissolved into ideological bodies of obstruction and refused to recognize this rite of passage and nurture all their people. They seem incapable of reaching for the higher branch of humanism that recognizes that health care is a basic human right; they settle for the low-hanging fruit of political opportunism.

The Republicans and the Tea Party have decided to invoke states’ rights to oppose the health-care law. But in their haste to reach this shortsighted conclusion, they neglect to mention that states do not have the right to impede the rite of progress. If that were the case, a state could claim that penicillin is but moldy bread and prohibit its sale, denying a life-saving antibiotic.

As these partisans battle over how much compassion a government should offer its people and whether it’s states or the federal government who decide, a far more important battle rages. It is the daily personal battle that those who are ill or disabled must fight for a better quality of life and ultimately survival. The rite of passage to a healthy nation is a basic human right for the ill and disabled, and it must always trump the desire of any state to remain dogmatically resistant to the well-being of every U.S. citizen.

Jeffrey R. Moualim lives in Santa Ynez. He is treasurer of the Committee of Ten Thousand, a national grassroots advocacy organization for people with hemophilia, HIV, and HCV, based in Washington, D.C., and Santa Barbara.


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