Last Tuesday, the nation awoke to yet another government shutdown, this time because no agreement on a fiscal spending plan had been reached. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and the GOP’s mission to defund it became a centerpiece in the impasse. Though the GOP might insist on passing a bill that will tear down the Affordable Care Act and the Democrats insist on keeping it, both sides are damaging the health of the nation. Even with the shutdown, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act will continue — a fact that indicates it’s time for negotiation and to avoid hurting the basic premises of the health care system.
The shutdown has complicated and endangered several aspects of our government: According to news site Aljazeera America, it has hampered food inspections, disease monitoring and other “nonessential” health functions. Furthermore, the shutdown began in October — the starting month of the flu season. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been forced to stop operating its disease monitoring systems, placing limits on identifying and preventing outbreaks from mutant strains. Though it still has the capacity to respond to outbreaks, finding them is key.
PulseNet, the site to which states report incidents of outbreaks, has been down since the shutdown began. This has increased the chance of an outbreak being identified too late. The government shutdown has also impeded the Food and Drug Administration’s day-to-day activities. As it is responsible for monitoring 80 to 85 percent of the nation’s food supply of fruits, vegetables and seafood, there could be a rise in food poisoning. On top of that, the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest source of medical research funding, ceased reviewing or issuing research grants, a very real setback for scientific research. According to Aljazeera America, the NIH’s news media branch chief Renate Myles said that 200 new patients at the NIH Clinical Center in Maryland will be deferred until the end of the shutdown. If it lasts until next month, more than 1,000 patients could be turned away.
The GOP’s effort to delay implementation of Obamacare is not only proving to be futile, but detrimental on these levels. The Democrats’ refusal to negotiate — and risk pulling back some aspects of Obamacare, such as the medical device tax — is also a problem.
Currently, attitudes on both sides don’t match sincere hopes to reconcile. USA Today reported that Obama “insists he will not negotiate major budget issues with congressional Republicans until they vote to reopen the government and to lift the debt ceiling.” Republicans are guilty of the same. Rather than delaying progress, both parties need to be willing to negotiate for the sake of our country.
The Affordable Care Act, the largest health care expansion since Medicare was passed in 1965, launched its new online marketplaces last Tuesday, despite the government shutdown.
Right from the start, glitches began happening. According to the Los Angeles Times, last week — the first week the online marketplaces of the Affordable Care Act opened — more than 8.5 million people visited the federal healthcare.gov website. Millions of Americans also flooded websites, call centers and insurance offices in search of more information about health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Very few of these interested consumers, however, have been able to complete the application process because of technical problems that repeatedly shut down online marketplaces, including the federal site. Before last week, according the Times, public opinion polls still showed the many Americans remained skeptical of the Affordable Care Act. Some say that the numbers do not represent a high level of consumer interest, but instead, most are really trying to explore out of curiosity. Whatever the case might be, there’s a lot to be done to improve the system, and it can’t be done without the support and the brainpower of a united collection of minds, especially at the head of this country.
Once the blame for the current crisis stops being passed around in a game of hot potato, some negotiation is needed. Forget about the politics and coming out on top of the shutdown, and instead consider the realities right now and what people, regardless of political position, can do to build upon what’s there to work with, transforming negatives to positives, one issue at a time.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English.
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