09/30/2013 04:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Travel Writer's Editorial: America and the Threat of National Health Care

The last wealthy nation in the First World without some kind of national health care is about to get a watered down version of what other nations just assume is the mark of a successful and developed society. And the vested interests -- big medicine, insurance companies, and the politicians they employ -- are screaming like mad and spending a fortune to stop it. Ads and campaigns of confusion are not directed at my state, but at poorer and less educated states where affordable health care is needed most and people are easiest to frighten and manipulate. (In my state, libraries can direct people to information to understand the new law. In many states, librarians are actually forbidden to provide this service.)

It's amazing to me that in our great nation, about a fifth of the citizens are unable to afford health insurance, need to go to the emergency room for routine medical needs, and are terrorized by the specter of one serious accident or sickness wiping out their family financially. And, just as amazing, half of our country thinks that's ok and is fighting mad about the possibility of change. Even more perplexing, many of the people who think this is the best America can afford are the very people who need help the most.

Someone recently asked me, "As a businessman and an employer, what do you think of Obamacare?" My response was that, as a businessman, I don't think of it at all. I employ 80 people. I imagine my health-care costs might go up a bit. But this is a community issue. My response to Obamacare is as an American who wants to be proud of my country. It is an embarrassment that so many Americans are brutalized by health-care costs. Europeans and Canadians -- who spend far less per person on health care, like their care, and have options for rich people to get all the private VIP service they like -- marvel at how so much of America is hell-bent on maintaining our status quo.

We're living through a tsunami of desperate media and political action to help us avoid relatively modest progress in national health care. Think of the toll Presidents Clinton took back in the 1990s and Obama is taking today by standing up to the torrent of media and political flack. Think of the patrons and allegiances of the politicians who fight against affordable health care. Follow the money. What motivates the talking heads, the commercial news services, and the politicians who are working overtime to convince us this is a bad thing? They are captives of the industries (who advertise and donate) that will take a hit when poor and struggling Americans have access to affordable health care.

Those opposed to Obamacare have a powerful and well-funded voice. I believe it's the slickest marketing initiative money can buy. Those who need the Affordable Care Act don't have these special interests speaking out in their favor. Study the issue carefully. Ask yourself what motivates the loudest voices pulling out all the stops to shape your opinion: compassion or greed?

The terror of a Sentralsykehuset in America

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at and follow his blog on Facebook.