Obama's Race for the Cure

The President's second term may hinge on how fast his health care reform can recover

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Photo-illustration by Sean Freeman for TIME

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But there is a larger problem for the country if Obamacare's ills metastasize. The glee of the law's opponents masks the reality that failure would leave behind: a country that pays too much and gets too little from its health care system, whose costs, at nearly 18% of GDP, limit America's ability to grow and invest and compete globally. Compared with other developed countries, the U.S. has more uninsured, fewer doctors per capita and lower life expectancies.

And if nothing changes, the other victim may have less to do with debt or disease treatments than national pride and ambition. Obama was elected on a slogan of hope and change because both were in short supply: the military exhausted by two wars, the banks failing their public trust, the U.S. Congress a comedy of dysfunction and a federal government that seemed designed to idle on the sidelines. Obama promised a return to competence and confidence and asked the nation to believe again that the government could do big things well. In the end, he got his big thing, a once-in-a-generation revision to the basic social compact, a commitment of health coverage to nearly all Americans. He has yet to prove he can do it well.

--With reporting by Alex Altman, Massimo Calabresi, Zeke Miller, Jay Newton-Small and Alex Rogers/Washington and David Von Drehle/Kansas City

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