Ciarán Roddy talks about his experience of one of the defining days in the USA this year.
So it was a day started just like any other at HHS. As I walked into the office, I said good morning to Jess, the girl who sits at the front desk and then went about my business as normal: checked my emails, my schedule and made a few phone calls.
Something was different though.
As I walked down the hall to talk to my supervisor, I noticed that every TV at HHS was on. Everyone was waiting in eager anticipation for the announcement of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. As I walked her office I was told that there would be a “watch party” in one of the conference rooms.
Great! 10am could not come soon enough.
As we watched CNN, it was announced that the individual mandate to impose the tax would be struck down. The dismay in the room was palpable. I felt the disappointment myself. At home, the premise that the NHS will not use one’s socio-economic background or wealth as a barrier to access to healthcare is taken for granted. It has perplexed me for years why the US had taken a comparatively socially irresponsible approach to healthcare. From my short time working at HHS I am aware of many of the good deeds the US does on a global basis in this area. But surely charity must begin at home.
However, my dismay was short lived. In what will probably be remembered as an iconic TV moment the Supreme Court correspondent came into shot to correct the notion that the Act had been struck down, announcing that it had indeed been upheld as a tax, by a 5-4 majority.
Whilst there was no shouting, roaring or fist-pumping in the conference room, a sense of relief appeared to reverberate around the Office of Global Affairs. This relief was especially apparent in that my supervisor encouraged myself and a number of other interns to make the short walk down to the Supreme Court to get a sense of the atmosphere. As I left she sent an email to my phone which read: “Go go go! Take pictures!”.
Talk about pandemonium at the Supreme Court! For hours after the decision, hundreds of newscasters, interest groups and politicians gathered round to air their views on the decision. As we walked around we could see everything. There were debates among people with differing view points, TV interviews and political rallies all going on before us.
It really was a pleasure to have been there!
Many would contend that the ACA is the defining feature of President Obama’s term in office. How could it not be? The decision has been described as the biggest Supreme Court decision since Roe v Wade and had it gone against Obama his term in office would have had comparatively little to show for itself. Now that the ACA has been upheld, this will surely now be the legacy of his first term and whilst it may cause controversy and division, the overriding feeling that I have deciphered from within HHS is that this decision will bring American healthcare into the 21st century in the one area that it was lacking.
Whatever happens in the election in November, President Obama achieved something momentous last week.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention that I also had a twenty minute conversation with Secretary Sebelius in her office. I couldn’t believe my luck when she had asked to meet me, but I thought it would be a quick “Hello-Goodbye”. It was anything but. I was in there for 20 minutes as we talked about everything from the healthcare act, Barrack Obama’s visit to Ireland and how many siblings I had! Ranked the world’s 13th most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine, what an honor that was.