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Cecilia Attias Headshot

Affordable Health Care Will Be Good for America

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My favorite image from the news about the Supreme Court verdict on the health care law shows a group of young people holding brightly colored pink and red placards that state "protecting women's health," "We heart Obamacare" and variations on those themes. The protestors are African-American, Hispanic, Asian and white, unified by their support for the Affordable Care Act and the fact that all of them are young.

Young Americans, hit hard by the recession and a tough job market, have much to gain from the upholding of the law: over the past year, 41 percent of young adults have forgone healthcare and treatments because of rising costs, according to CNN.

So when the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care bill, it marked a big step forward. In recent decades, presidents on both sides of the political aisle have tried to introduce universal health care, and until last week, all of their attempts had failed to gain traction.

To people like me, who are from abroad, the American debate has often seemed bewildering. How could you not want to find a way to provide affordable care to citizens? In the US, of course, the system is enormously complicated and entrenched, and multiple factors are at play; but it remains true that across the world, many other countries have managed to develop effective public health systems.

France is known for the quality of the health care it affords its citizens, but it is not alone in granting this access. As Tina Rosenberg noted in a recent article, all other developed nations have universal health coverage, along with emerging economies such as Brazil, Thailand, Chile and Rwanda.

Other African nations have built good systems of public health as well. Not too long ago, we held the first ever Dialogue For Action Africa conference in Gabon. In 2007 the Gabonese government created the National Health Insurance and Social Welfare Fund, which will initially provide health care for poor Gabonese, before expanding to cover other members of society. The ambitious program, financed by revenue from mobile phone operators in Gabon, has already been immensely successful, and the Gabonese government continues to invest, pouring funds into university hospitals that specialize in surgery, maternal child health and trauma.

For quite some time it has been evident that America's health system was floundering. The US spends more than two-and-a-half times the OECD average on health, yet it ranks fiftieth in the world in the average life expectancy of its citizens. Maternal health has especially suffered. Two years ago Amnesty International published a report called "Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Healthcare Crisis in the USA," which found that every day two women die in America because of complications arising from childbirth. In 2009, of the babies born in America, 639.4 per 100,000 perished, giving the US one of the highest infant mortality rates of any developed country.

We must hope that the Affordable Care Act goes a way towards improving these shocking figures. For now, let's celebrate that at this pivotal time in America's history, the world's richest nation has gotten onto the right track.

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