As the news spread that the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the law and its requirement that most people buy health insurance, some people across Europe took to Twitter to ask: What’s the big deal?
“Dear Americans. Health insurance is very important for your health and life. Don’t forget. We have it in Germany,” one Twitter user from Germany wrote, adding a smiley face to the end.
Rafael Dohms, a computer engineer living in the Netherlands, wrote, “I’m forced to pay health insurance here in the [Netherlands] … not as bad as I would have imagined.”
And Parisian filmmaker Vincent Galiano joked, “At least USA becomes a modern nation! Soon even the education could be good!”
In Europe, where governments take a bigger role in healthcare, many people have been baffled by the political furor over the healthcare law championed by President Obama, which has spawned fervent protests and angry accusations that the government is sliding into socialism. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the government may impose tax penalties on people who don't buy insurance, something that opponents argued was an unconstitutionally intrusive step.
“Why object [to] Obamacare?” a French teacher mused online Thursday in Switzerland, where residents must buy insurance in a system similar to the contested American law. “Is it more about *having* to get insurance, or more about poor people getting treated for less?”
The debate so mystified the French that a television channel devoted an entire segment to it, titled “Why do U.S. citizens resist healthcare reform?” France 24 reported that “discomfort with the healthcare reform may stem from deeply entrenched, typically American attitudes, some analysts say.”
The Supreme Court ruling also gave Europeans another opportunity to poke fun at the less-than-worldly attitudes of many Americans, pointing out the many critics of healthcare reform who had announced online that they were headed to Canada -- a country with a national, publicly funded healthcare system.
"I'm sorry, but ... I cannot stand the majority of Americans," one Swede tweeted, linking to a Buzzfeed roundup of Americans planning to pack up for Toronto.
Canadians also found the furor confounding. “Why do Americans have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a policy choice that the rest of the civilized world decided long ago was a cornerstone of a humane society?” Jonathan Kay wrote in the National Post, a Canadian paper. He concluded:
Canadians lament that they have few national myths. But as the health-care debate shows, an absence of myths makes policy-making easier. In the United States, where the Founding Fathers are treated as secular saints, where many “originalist” judges are trapped in a 1789-era reading of the Constitution, and where conservatives such as Ron Paul still imagine a country of frontier yeomen who can get their health care from neighbours and local well-wishers, Obamacare became a proxy for a larger and more vexing question: Can Americans still afford to entertain 18th-century political reveries when 50-million of their countrymen lack health insurance in the world of 2012?
Others just pleaded for an explanation. "I'm just a simple Canadian so maybe someone could explain why it is that some Americans don't like healthcare?" author Jeffrey Luscombe tweeted.
So far, no Americans have responded.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Protesters opposed to the Affordable Care Act wear masks of President Obama and the Grim Reaper as they demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday in Washington. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images