Demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court Monday to be seen and heard on the question of whether President Barack Obama's health care reform law should be upheld or repealed. Despite stark opposition on the issue, attendees at the day's rallies shared a common view on one thing: health care in America costs too much.
Stephanie Cater, 50, owns a vintage clothing shop in Indianapolis and believes health care reform is unconstitutional. She wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the "Don't Tread on Me" flag that's become an icon for the Tea Party movement and carried her own drawing of the late conservative media figure Andrew Breitbart. Cater said Obama's law "flies in the face of the Constitution" and is "Orwellian." She came to Washington to protest outside the Supreme Court, just like she rallied against health care reform on the grounds of the Capitol in 2010.
Cater also has no health insurance. She and her husband dropped their plan last year after it got too expensive. “We’re on the ‘stay healthy’ plan,” she said.
“Basically, I always felt like it was a racket," she said of health insurance. "Nothing ever happened and I was just out the money.”
Cater and her husband are setting aside money for medical expenses, but what if something happens to either of them that exceeds their ability to pay? She says they'd seek help from family, community, church and charities. “That’s the way it used to be,” she said.
The Supreme Court convenes for three days this week to consider a constitutional challenge to health care reform, and is expected to issue a ruling before the end of June. On the first day, March 26, organizers from groups that favor the law staged a rally while a few stray opponents milled around in front of the Court. Conservative and Tea Party groups opposed to the law have events planned Tuesday to follow their rally on Saturday.
Health care costs are going up for everybody and have been for years. Americans spent $2.6 trillion on health care in 2010, which is more than 10 times such spending in 1980. Obama's health care reforms are the first major federal attempts to deal with health care and the uninsured in decades, but a majority of the public has never favored the law, according to polls.
Marlys Cox has learned that not everyone can rely on their neighbors in a time of need, as Cater suggests. Cox, a part-time substitute teacher who earns about $40,000 annually, dropped her health insurance last year. Because she has hepatitis C, it was already hard for her to find a plan, but when the premiums went from $300 to $1,100 over 11 years, she'd had enough.
Then came the breast cancer diagnosis. Cox found she wasn't eligible for charity-care programs because her income was too high, and she didn't get the help she sought from members of her community. Unlike Cater, Cox came to a different conclusion about health care reform, which enabled her to pay $376 a month for for the law's Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan, which covered her cancer treatments.
“I saw the Affordable Care Act kind of as the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cox said.
Ron Kirby worked as an engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency and he and his wife are both covered by the retiree health benefits he earned. "We all should have health care," he said. But Kirby, 66, doesn't like Obama's health care reform law. Kirby, who lives in Alexandria, Va., carried a sign that read, “Obamacare Is All About Government Control." He is so distrustful of the government that he declined Medicare benefits, making the same decision recently affirmed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “I don’t believe in Medicare," he said.
Health care reform is the first step toward socialism, Kirby said, and people should be responsible for their own health care costs. “When I was a kid, when we went to the doctor, we paid the bill," he said.
Not everyone can get insurance like federal workers do, however. Ellena Young, 31, has had cancer three times. Because of her pre-existing conditions, Young has never had stable access to health coverage or medical care. When she could find insurance, it was costly and her expenses routinely exceeded the plans' annual limits. During a complicated pregnancy in 2009, she decided to induce labor early because the bills were mounting for the medication she was using at the hospital. Her son was born with genetic disorders.
Young is studying at the State University of New York at Albany for a Ph.D. in philosophy. Her husband is also a student and they're enrolled in the university's student health plan. When she graduates, she'll be relying on elements of health care reform to provide her with insurance that covers both her and her son's medical care and doesn't carry an annual limit. It will be the first time she'll have had comprehensive insurance, she said.
If the law gets repealed, she said, both she and her son will again face obstacles to health insurance because of their pre-existing conditions.