The Sky Falling is a Bad Thing

All across America, Conservative commentators are jumping up and down, waving their hands in the air, pointing at glitches in the month-old roll-out of Obamacare and yelling “I told you so!” Republicans are so eager to turn attention away from their destructive shenanigans in the budget and debt ceiling debate that more column inches have been devoted to the launch of a website than at any other time in human history. None of them, of course, go so far as to suggest an alternative to fix the actual problem: the 50 million uninsured Americans who could go bankrupt at the first appearance of major illness.

One such offender was fellow columnist Ben Kinney ’15. His column of last week contained a number of the troubling factual errors that have characterized the entire debate. First was the assertion that he lost faith in the workability of the Affordable Care Act while watching Kathleen Sebelius flub an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart just weeks ago. I understand as well as anyone the temptation to use a recent statement to jump into a column (case in point) but I suspect that Kinney belongs firmly in the camp of the Republicans rooting against the program — and doing their best to sabotage its success — from its inception.

More troubling was Kinney’s claim that “The Obama Administration has already spent half-a-billion dollars creating an unusable website…how can we trust it to effectively manage the complex and varied health care needs of 400 million Americans?” This would be a reasonable criticism, if it were in any way correct. Kinney overestimated the number of Americans by 83 million and the cost of the website by roughly $400 million according to the fact-checking website Media Matters. To be fair, he was not alone in this error; much like the $200 million-per-day India trip in 2010, the myth of the absurdly expensive website has flown through a gleeful conservative media looking for any shred of evidence to pin the President as an old-school tax-and-spend liberal.

Kinney’s later claims are less defective in their veracity than deceptive in their scope. He says that health insurance premiums under Obamacare are significantly higher than current premiums. This ignores the vast majority of owners of health insurance plans, who get their coverage through their employers, Medicaid, or Medicare. Those who will see their rates increase are the five percent of Americans who purchase their insurance as individuals and an additional five percent who previously had no health insurance. Some of those people were young, healthy and had previously opted not to purchase insurance. Unsurprisingly, buying health insurance instead of playing a literal game of Russian roulette with fatal illness represents a rate increase for those individuals. A quarter of people who previously did not buy health insurance were unable to do so due to a preexisting illness. For them, the coverage they will gain from the law represents the difference between a nonzero monthly cost and complete medical bankruptcy, or death.

Many of the cheaper plans purchased by consumers in this individual marketplace prior to the law cost less for a reason — they were the insurance equivalent of a shot of whisky and a prayer. They wouldn’t cover the cost of an ambulance or a night in the hospital, and they could be cancelled during treatment due to costs. Obamacare will subsidize the increased cost of health insurance for people making less than 400 percent above the poverty line, but that cannot get around the fact that owning usable health insurance will always cost more than useless or absent insurance — until disaster strikes.

Health insurance, plain and simple, saves lives. When Conservatives point to website glitches and the states across the nation who have refused to expand Medicaid to bring coverage to the uninsured and call Obamacare a failure, they’re ignoring the greater tragedy. The website will eventually be fixed. The states refusing to expand coverage have done so out of ideological spite. And in the richest nation in the world, Americans continue to die because they cannot afford to buy health insurance. Instead of pointing at these failings as a sign that the twice-elected President isn’t so great after all, how about working on a solution?

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8 thoughts on “The Sky Falling is a Bad Thing

  1. Well stated, but skirts the most important point. The only real freedom that anyone has is their freedom of choice. The individual mandate denies us that most basic of freedoms, and is the main point of contention for most people against Obamacare. Of course the whole scheme falls apart without it – but hey, the needs of the some outweigh the rights of the all, n’est-ce pas?

    • That’s a false choice. People who don’t buy insurance under the status quo don’t often face the basic responsibility that comes with their choice. We’re not going to start denying basic health care to people who show up at the ER unable to pay.

      • To quote the Wall Street Journal (http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-03-31/opinions/35208590_1_financial-reform-false-choice-false-choice): “As a rhetorical device, particularly as a political rhetorical device, the false choice has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any. The phrase has become a trite substitute for serious thinking. It serves too often to obscure rather than to explain.”
        I’ve chosen not to have health insurance for most of my life – and it seemed a pretty valid choice at the time.

      • Ok, so ignore the first sentence of my reply if you find it trite. Health insurance is a necessary component of the market structure of health care in the United States as long as we agree that we’re not going to let people die outside the ER.

  2. We’re all dying. It’s the natural progression of things. Some people are charitable and some are not. I may dispute the term “false choice”, but I still believe there are right and wrong, good and bad ones. It should still be the individual’s right to choose either way and be ready to face the consequences, if there are any.
    I’m not talking about the ER here. I honestly don’t believe that anyone is ever turned away with an immediate life-threatening emergency – with or without health insurance. I’m talking about long term illness and the unnecessary (non life or death) costs of birth control pills and Viagra prescriptions. I’m talking about the fraud that will most definitely be perpetrated on the system as it has been with every government-run program.

    • Exactly. Nobody is ever turned away with an immediate life-threatening emergency. So after they’ve received their treatment, who pays? Where do you think those costs get passed on to? Hint: not to the person who couldn’t afford the care. You can’t in one breath claim that it’s an individual’s right to not pay for health insurance and then in the next protest that no ER would ever turn away a dying patient. If you truly believe that person should “be ready to face the consequences,” you’re contradicting yourself.

      And I’ll gladly subsidize the cost of some packets of birth control pills if they mean better family planning. In the long term, the cost savings are enormous.

      • A lot of people who never had health care still won’t be paying for it once they get it. So who do you think the costs get passed on to? Hint: not to the person who couldn’t afford insurance. The only difference is that instead of just the cost of emergency care being charged to someone else after the fact, every little sniffy nose is charged to someone else before the fact.

        When I spoke of choice and consequence, I qualified it with “if there are any”, purposely to offset the appearance of any contradiction.

        I personally agree with your point about birth control. However I also happen to respect the religious beliefs of those who wouldn’t agree. Not one penny of their money should have to pay for birth control or abortion procedures. The only way to make sure of that is not to cover those items. There are private organizations like Planned Parenthood that can subsidize them with private donations that force no one to contribute but those who wish to.

      • True, providing – or attempting to provide – universal health insurance increases the level of redistribution in this country. Health insurance costs will tend to get passed on to those who can afford to pay them. But the benefit of charging “every little sniffy nose” before the fact is that it’s cheaper to treat a condition at that point than it is to treat a full-blown pneumonia case down the line. If you concede that preventative care works – that a mammogram is cheaper than a mastectomy, that a endoscopy is cheaper than chemo, and that lipitor is cheaper than bypass surgery – then universal health insurance should save money overall and over time.

        And I think that a better way to honor the religious convictions of people concerned about where their money goes to in terms of women’s health would be to have some sort of opt-out program rather than to leave them completely uncovered. I’m not sure how feasible that actually is, but it’s certainly an improvement over not covering the cost of contraception at all.

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