YEARS AGO, in his comedy special “Never Scared,” Chris Rock slammed partisan politics in America as gang mentality. “Anyone who makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a fool,” he said. “Listen. Let it swirl around in your head. Then form your opinion.”
These words stuck with me as I followed the health care debate over the past year. So I set out to form a responsible opinion on the issue using only the resources all voting Americans have: personal experience and the Internet.
I know little to nothing about health care beyond the ordinary frustrations of doctor visits and occasional trips to the ER due to sports injuries. But rather than repeat sound bytes portraying the Republicans as the “party of no” or the Democrats as “socialists,” I decided to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and assumed that both parties really believe they are doing the right thing for the country.
I lean left on most political issues, but I take the opinions of my conservative friends seriously. I understand the inefficiency of government services, enjoy many of the advantages of a free market economy and value my personal liberty. In that spirit, I wanted to consult a news source that these friends would find credible. So throughout my effort, I made it a point to look at Fox News’ coverage as much, if not more so, than any other sources.
Fox News describes the bill this way: “The historic legislation, affecting virtually every American and more than a year in the making, would extend coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who lack it, forbid insurers to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade.”
I like all of these ideas. I was recently persuaded of the importance of health insurance when my wife went into the hospital to have her appendix removed, then had to have an additional surgery for an intestinal hernia about a month later. Even with the employer-provided health insurance I have, we had to pay almost $5,000 in medical bills. The total cost of these two hospital stays was nearly $150,000 and, had we not had insurance, it would have been the rough equivalent of taking a mortgage out on a house or attending medical school—except we wouldn’t get a house or advanced degree out of the deal, just a functioning digestive system.
So I’m wagering that the vast majority of those 32 million uninsured people want health insurance, and I want them to have it. To bring my wife into this again, she is a social worker and a lot of her deadbeat clients go to the ER for minor ailments or depression because they know they cannot be turned away. The hospital, for them, basically amounts to a free place to spend the night as long as they claim they want to commit suicide. Of course, this costs money, but they can’t pay it. And so it’s tacked on to the cost of good, honest citizens’ (that’s me!) insurance premiums.
Another Fox News article says the bill will provide “subsidies for low- and moderate-income people without employer health benefits to buy private plans on health-insurance exchanges, which are due to start in 2014.”
I like this health-insurance exchange idea. When I was self-employed between 2005 and 2008, I had the annoying experience of shopping for my own health insurance. Basically, I had to enter my contact information online and then endure countless calls and e-mails from various providers for weeks, months and even years afterward. An online exchange would provide a Lending-Tree-like platform that, it seems to me, would force more free-market-style competition between insurers. After all, when insurers compete, you win.
I also support subsidies for people who can’t afford private plans on their own and am happy to pay the necessary taxes to make this happen. Pretty liberal of me, I know, but that’s how I feel. The old argument that we are punishing the people who have worked hard to succeed by forcing them to take care of lazy people falls flat. I make tons more money now writing for an advertising agency than I did when I was baking in the 90-degree sun painting houses or commuting between multiple schools to make ends meet as a part-time English instructor. The job I have now is way easier. We get our own laptops, free lattes every day at an in-house café, a ping-pong table and yes, health insurance. I’ve worked pretty hard to get to this position, but I’ve also been extremely lucky. I have no problem using my tax dollars to pay for coverage for the roofers, janitors, restaurant-workers and others who work a lot harder than I do, but cannot afford insurance independently.
I will grant that there are a lot of lazy losers out there too, many of my wife’s clients among them. But again, I feel like I am already paying for their medical care one way or another (Medicaid, most likely) while good hard-working people who earn low wages are unfairly left to fend for themselves.
Regarding the bill’s crackdown on insurance company abuses, Fox News also carried a story reprinted from the Wall Street Journal that started off this way: “No more worrying about lifetime limits on health coverage, about whether your insurer will dump you when you get sick, or about whether your adult child will be booted off your plan when he turns 18. Kids will be able to stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26 if they want and new insurance policies will have to cover certain preventive-care measures with no out-of-pocket cost to the consumer.”
Here’s a good, specific objection: “Republicans, though, rolled out the argument Friday that the deficit reductions Democrats are claiming—$138 billion over the next decade—are inaccurate, in part because of a potential move to increase Medicare payments to doctors in a separate measure by much more than that.”
This may very well be the case. To me, the federal budget deficit seems very abstract and I have a hard time understanding how it will affect my life.
Most of the other objections I found were quotes from Republicans along these lines: “Americans do not want a trillion-dollar government takeover of health care stuffed with tax hikes, Medicare cuts and giveaways to Washington special interests,” House minority leader John Boehner said. “Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
This strikes me as vague and potentially hyperbolic. It also seems slightly ironic that Boehner is defending Medicare so vehemently when “Medicare is a social insurance program administered by the United States government” and “Medicare operates as a single-payer health care system.” Okay, I cheated there and quoted Wikipedia, but it seems like precisely the sort of government takeover that economic conservatives would want to abolish.
So that’s it. A flawed, limited but honest person who spent a reasonable amount of time researching the bill that Barack Obama signed yesterday can see that it is a flawed, limited attempt at health care reform. I have been careful not to quote any opinion pieces above because they are difficult to verify. I have relied only on hard news reports from the most prominent conservative news outlet. My findings revealed that the bill does a lot of good things (but not everything), and that the arguments against it feel more rhetorical than substantive. I don’t see what we have to worry about.
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