“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject…Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” said Donald J. Trump on Monday, February 27, at a press conference. This was his answer to a question about the then-seemingly stalled, but as of now reinvigorated, plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care law that is—both derisively and affectionately, depending on your political affiliations—known as Obamacare.
Pundits and journalists weighed in quickly with snarky jokes; it seemed they couldn’t help themselves. “Nobody? Nobody! Of course, everybody knows that health care reform is complicated,” said Jordan Weissman at Slate.com. On Twitter, thousands tried their hands at memes and quips, many of which paired pictures of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders laughing next to Donald Trump’s quote. Others remarked that they themselves must be “nobodies,” since they knew well that health care was complicated.
Perhaps unintentionally, the President actually made a really important point. If you aren’t someone who spends much time thinking about or studying the U.S. health care system, it can be stunning just how complex every aspect of the system is. I trained as a historian of medicine, and I teach undergraduate courses on the workings of the American health care system in a policy program. My students are continually surprised by the contradictory inequalities and complexities of our so-called “system.” In the fall of 2015, after participating at a conference with an international audience of scholars in Dublin, Ireland, the overarching question I got over dinner, from a highly educated audience of peer academics, was one of incredulous dismay, and amounted to: Is this really how the health care system in the US works?
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.