Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

US Notebook: Millions still confused and still without healthcare

Silenced: Linda Ronstadt

As far as natural gifts and talent go, legendary pop crooner Linda Ronstadt has clearly had them in spades. It is all the more stunning, then, her revelation last month that Parkinson's Disease has robbed her of her ability to sing.

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, Ronstadt's autobiography, hit US bookstores and online outlets alike last week.

In Simple Dreams, she traces her career, from her breakthrough 1967 hit, Different Drum, with the Stone Ponies, through 1970s mega-stardom and beyond – a career that saw her equally at home singing tender ballads, Broadway show tunes, or raucous rock 'n' roll anthems.

The book mostly focuses on her musical career and her personal life. But, in a series of US press interviews to promote Simple Dreams, Ronstadt has also been speaking candidly about the effects of Parkinson's Disease.

And, in doing so, the 67-year-old Arizona native has inadvertently shone a light on health and well-being in the richest country on earth at a time when millions of its citizens still lack healthcare coverage.

More than four years on from the passage of 2009's landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) – aka Obamacare – America remains deeply divided about its healthcare system.

A recent CNN poll found that only 6% of Americans support all of Obamacare's provisions, in contrast to 20% who oppose all of it.

Republicans, particularly those of the hard-Right Tea Party variety, are baying for Obamacare's repeal.

Their allies in Congress are trying to use the looming federal budget and debt-ceiling battles to de-fund it.

But, with Democrats controlling the Senate, and Barack Obama's feet resting on the Oval Office's desk, that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

But don't expect Republican assaults on the ACA to stop, either. After all, it was rabid opposition to the ACA that spawned the Tea Party in 2009 and helped Republicans seize the House of Representatives in 2010.

As for the ACA itself, taken as a whole, its patchwork quilt of complicated provisions has left many Americans confused – especially in light of a relentless campaign of scaremongering by its right-wing opponents. For example, Obamacare foes claim that the requirement that, beginning in 2014, Americans who don't have either privately-purchased, government-supplemented, or employment-based health insurance will be fined, is an unprecedented expansion of governmental power.

Never mind that that provision aims to bring down skyrocketing insurance premiums by vastly expanding the pool of those paying for health insurance.

And skyrocketing costs are laying waste to households across the US. One 2008 study found that 66% of people who faced mortgage foreclosure in America cited lost work due to sickness, medical bills or the need to care for a sick relative, as major factors.

Still, one ACA provision that even many Republicans don't seem to want to scupper is one that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from denying coverage, or charging significantly higher premiums, to people with pre-existing conditions.

Like the Parkinson's Disease that has stolen Linda Ronstadt's singing voice.

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