For somebody that was born, grew up and lived most of her life in the Third World, it has always been hard to understand why the United States of America, the richest country in the world, does not offer health care to all its citizens.
I came from a country in which everybody who has a job automatically gets health insurance. It is not the best health care in the world, but it is a relief to know that if you have a car accident, if you need surgery or if you get a chronic disease, you will receive medical care practically for free. For those without a job, there are public hospitals and clinics. There is also private medicine for those who can afford it, and most physicians divide their practice between public and private hospitals. Most physicians in Mexico have a decent way of life.
After I came here, it took me years to understand the system. I still do not get it completely.
For example, how can the most prosperous country in the world spend billions of dollars on foreign wars, when 45.7 million of its people do not have medical coverage and 8.1 million of them are children. (US census, 2007) I was shocked to find out that 60% of all bankruptcies that occurred last year were due to medical bills. I could not believe that people were rejected for pre-existing medical conditions. It’s not humane to cancel a policy when someone is sick.
Why is it that if your job doesn’t provide health insurance and you are forced to purchase it yourself, it ends up costing much more than employer-paid health insurance?
Obama’s health care reform is not the panacea to all health problems, but it’s a good first step. There is still work to do, like putting a stop to the huge increases to health insurance premiums, especially if by 2014 it will be mandatory for everyone to purchase health coverage. For example, just last month, Anthem Blue Cross announced that California will be hit with a 34% rate increase. After a wave of criticism, the company announced a postponement.
One in three Hispanics does not have health coverage. Thirty two percent of all the uninsured are Latinos. I do not know if Obama’s reform is good news for them, because there is nothing in the bill for the 12 million undocumented immigrants. They will continue to live in the shadows, condemned to go to the emergency room in extreme cases or in the best case scenario, to community clinics.
Obama’s health care reform is not the best. It has some serious loopholes, but the richest country in the world is taking huge steps to guarantee health care for all its citizens. As a mother of two, I will be able to cover my young ones under my plan until they are 26. And that’s a great relief for parents.
Araceli Martínez Ortega is a Mexican journalist who has lived in California in the last nine years. This collaboration is about her personal journey through Las Americas and wherever she goes.