By: Evan Tung
I had the opportunity to interview Ruth Linden, president of Tree Life Health Advocates. With a sociology Ph.D., she has been a professor at many well known colleges including Stanford, Tufts University, and UCSF. She has received the Helen Hooven Santmyer Prize in Women’s Studies for her book Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis. We discussed her passion for healthcare justice and her positive, but realistic opinion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Q: Can you briefly summarize in your words what the ACA/Obamacare is?
The ACA, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, however you like to refer to it, is an immensely complex piece of legislation or law. A condensed version of the Affordable Care Act is over a thousand pages long, so it’s a law that encompasses huge amount of terrain. It affects people who purchase health care on the individual market, it affects people who are part of small employer groups, large employer groups, it affects people on Medicare, it affects people who purchase health care outside of government sponsored healthcare. It’s a hugely complex law.
Q: What is your opinion on the law?
My opinion is a favorable one, although it is a flawed law. There are many, many, many problems with it, but it is certainly superior to what existed or precisely what didn’t exist prior to 2010 when the law was passed. The reason I view it favorably is because I view healthcare as a right. In other words, I believe that all human life is of equal worth and has equal value. So there is a moral iterative when I say that healthcare is a right. A corollary to that would be to say that it is the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare for all, regardless of whether people are able to pay for it or not. It’s pretty simple from my point. I do not share the view that many who oppose Obamacare hold: some people will have the purchasing power to pay monthly premiums out of pocket expenses, and those who don’t have the means to pay for monthly premiums and out of pocket expenses should do without.
Q: A popular claim among people against the ACA is that health coverage is unfair because of all the freeloaders. How would you counter this and what is your opinion?
There are always freeloaders. Strictly using logic, freeloaders aren’t a reason to withhold healthcare or a carefully design healthcare system. a logical reason to repeal and replace. An example of freeloading: I remember years ago, my first job out of college I worked with a man who was a librarian. We were in downtown San Francisco, and he would eat at Saint Anthony’s for lunch everyday. Saint Anthony’s has, essential, a soup kitchen. He didn’t have a huge salary, but it was a salary. Does that mean Saint Anthony’s shouldn’t have provided a soup kitchen for people who needed food in their bellies at noon time and dinner? Certainly there were people in that line who could afford to pay $2 or $8 for food or a donation. Of course it doesn’t mean that there will always be freeloaders for whatever reasons and flaws in the human condition. It makes theft a fact in life, there will always be someone who goes into a store like Trader Joe’s to shoplift. Does that mean we shouldn’t have a grocery store? We need grocery stores or else how are we going to get food?
If you look at the example in the New Yorker article “Is Healthcare a Right?”, they say use the example of water. Water is a basic government responsibility even if some people will abuse water like not turn off faucets when they brush their teeth. But does this mean that we should cut off their water supply? Of course it doesn’t.
Q: A big portion of the ACA covers health care in companies. What is your opinion on the effects of the laws in the work environment?
The system we have in this country, which offers healthcare to work place, is unique in all of the advanced industrial counties in the world. No other country does this and it is an accident of history from World War II. Businesses whether they are small like a tech startup, or huge like IBM, AT&T, or Google, all have responsibilities to their workers. Businesses depend on government subsidized growth, government subsidized transportation, and a favorable tax structure that allows them to function and accrue huge profits. In my opinion, they should be responsible for taking care of their workforce. It also benefits the overall healthcare cost. A healthy workforce with a strong platform of prevention services, which the ACA provides with zero cost, will lower the overall national health care budget because people are simply healthier.
Q: Many other countries have a more successful healthcare system than America. What do you think is a good example America should follow?
France, Germany, and Canada all have interesting models, but I think the US should build on the system we have in place. We already have universal coverage for people over age 65, people who qualify for social security disabilities, and what can count as universal coverage for children. So my view of the model we should follow is not any other countries, it is the model we already have. Which is medicare. Medicare for all.