Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

     House Republicans, deterred briefly by the Tucson massacre, can now check off pandering to our base as their second action as the majority party in the new congress. Obamacare is now safely repealed—only it isn’t, if repeal means the actual law has changed. It will go nowhere in the Senate, where Democrats are still barely in charge. Even if Senate Democrats were all sick on voting day and it did pass, the President would simply pull out his veto pen, and there are certainly not 67 Senate votes to override him. But House Republicans can now say, as Speaker John Boehner did, “we listened to the people,” though he should have added, sotto voce, “but really to the insurance companies.” Thus the new majority played a little fiddle tune as Rome warms up, the fire on the horizon being the national debt and an unsustainable budget, with no current officeholder of any stripe having a serious plan to rein it in.

     So what is it exactly about healthcare reform that the Republicans so want to repeal? The prohibition against insurance companies cherry-picking their customers? The prohibition against insurance companies dropping customers if they inconveniently get a little too sick? The prohibition against companies’ refusal to cover people with pre-existing conditions? The right of children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance? The closing of the doughnut hole for seniors? The expansion of health coverage to 30 million more Americans? The greater scrutiny of fraudulent Medicare claims? No, they claim to want to keep these things; it’s just that freedom-killing requirement that everyone have insurance, by buying it if necessary, that’s standing in their way. This, they say, is an infringement of a citizen’s rights, ignoring altogether the fact that governments require people to pay taxes to support things they may not advocate, and they require drivers to buy insurance. But that’s different—you don’t have to drive. For most people between 20 and 80, driving is not a choice. Well it’s just wrong, so Boehner et al. say, unconstitutional even, to require folks to buy health insurance, even though they inevitably are in the healthcare system from the day they are inoculated until their last visit to the emergency room. To make the case against the mandate, they drop their usual concern about the uninsured having their health problems paid for or subsidized by other taxpayers through Medicaid and visits to emergency rooms—the socialism thing.

     It is hard to put much credence in their protestations that all those good things about healthcare reform are things they want too—their backers in the insurance industry certainly don’t. If it just were not for that pesky mandate that everyone must buy insurance, they would be healthcare reform’s biggest champions. All those mysterious lost jobs is a problem too, but never mind the Congressional Budget Office’s estimated $230 billion addition to the debt that repeal would cost over the next several years. Not coincidentally, the mandate is the linchpin of the whole plan, the mechanism by which it is funded, and if they could kill that, healthcare reform would just go away. And if they can say “job killing” enough times, that might, they hope, just put them and their insurance company pals over the top, before Americans discover that they actually like Obamacare, and that the Republicans tried yet again to sell them a bill of goods.


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