Something overlooked about Obamacare

Last April on The Washington Post, Max Ehrenfreund, a political reporter who seems to be critical about both Democrats and Republicans, posted an article detailing a surprising way Obamacare is helping the poor. In “The big way Obamacare helps the poor isn’t really about their health,” Ehrenfreund argues that the true benefit in the Affordable Care Act comes in the form of financial assistance.

Based on a newly published study by researchers of the University of Illinois at Chicago, economist Robert Kaestner found that those who had signed up with Medicaid had reduced their debt by $600 to a total of $1000. Kaestner states that “health insurance […] is first and foremost a form of financial protection.” Ehrenfreund sees this result as evidence that there is only small financial support for Obamacare, but the true goal of providing quality healthcare to all Americans and improving health is still missed.

He mentions another study done in Oregon where participants on Medicaid more frequently saw their doctor, but had shown less than significant improvements in measures of their cholesterol and blood pressure. Because of this study and the one by Kaestner, Ehrenfreund remains critical about the true health benefits of Obamacare.

However, if I were talking to Ehrenfreund right now, I would tell him that he simply needs to be patient. It has barely been over 6 years since Obama had signed the Act into law, and 6 years is barely enough time to see major changes in health. Although acute illnesses may be alleviated, we still have yet to see the effects of affordable health care on the longevity and age-related chronic conditions of Americans, such as diabetes and mental illnesses. The Oregon study found that people had significantly reduced the prevalence of depression, a major indicator on the future health and life outlook of the patient.

Although Ehrenfreund mentions the true impact of Obamacare as being simply financial help, he fails to realize that economic status is one of the most accurate indicators of mortality. The poor, on average, live much shorter lives than the rich. The most cited reason for this health gradient is the fact that the poor encounter stressors and potential consequences that are more severe than their wealthier counterparts. Stressors have a real, palpable impact on one’s health, especially in the long term. So although Ehrenfreund might think that the financial benefit of Obamacare only helps American wallets, he is mistaken.

A 600$ debt decrease now, could mean economic freedom and prosperity to hundreds of Americans, possibly allowing them to live a more stress-free life. And with more Americans living with less stress, there will be measurable benefits in the health of Americans. 6 years is simply too short to be able to accurately critique or praise the efficacy of a national health care program.

Ehrenfreund simply commits the mistake of not realizing that stress and health are extremely intertwined. Controlling for all other lifestyle factors, stress is the reason why the poor constantly live shorter lives in countries all across the world. So what he labels as simply a small financial benefit to Americans is actually a very hopeful sign for the future of American health.

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