It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that the main issue in the race for the presidency between Democrats and Republicans ultimately comes down to one thing: what is the role of government in our lives?
We see it played out over and over again. The flavor of the week this week happens to be healthcare and how it is provided, or not, to people in this country. The Supreme Court has set aside six hours – an almost unheard of amount of time – to hear oral arguments pro and con in regard to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), derisively referred to as Obamacare by virtually all Republicans. What will the justices hear during these fabled hours? The biggest and by far the most contentious part of the law surely has to do with the mandate that everyone has to be enrolled in the plan and pay according to his or her ability.
Not surprisingly, Rick Santorum, that most Tea Baggish of Republicans, has said that allowing government to tell us that we have to sign up for health insurance is nothing less than an “affront to freedom.” We have to wonder if he feels the same way regarding the requirement that people sign up for car insurance before being able to drive an automobile, and if he thinks that this somehow makes us equally “unfree.” If so, how might he feel the next time his wife is driving around town to pick up supplies for their home schooled brood of seven and gets into a fender-bender with an uninsured motorist? Will he think that this is perfectly fine, and that it was simply a legitimate expression of that person’s freedom for him or her not to have bought car insurance? I have to believe instead that he’d be as annoyed as any of us would under similar circumstances.
But is there really such a difference between the two situations? In each case, we have examples of the government requiring that individuals bear responsibility for themselves by purchasing insurance from a private company. And by the way, I thought that this kind of personal sense of responsibility went to the very core of Republican values! As it stands now, those of us who do have car insurance pay extra for those who drive without it. In this situation, at least, the number of uninsured drivers is relatively small, because most of those who drive can afford insurance. However, when it comes to insuring our health, that is to say, our own bodies, it’s not so easy. There are currently almost 50 million Americans who are uninsured. This is not because they do not want the coverage, it’s because they cannot pay for it. They simply cannot afford it.
And the future without the Affordable Care Act appears even more bleak. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that, without ACA, by the year 2020 the number of uninsured Americans would rise to 60 million! ACA may not be perfect, and no one – not even Pres. Obama – claims that it is, but at least it would provide an additional 33 million people with needed health insurance. By contrast, the same CBO estimates that comparable Republican plans to reform healthcare would cover only 3 million, less than 10% of the Democratic plan!
So, why is it an “affront to (our) freedom” for the government to require people to purchase health insurance (with those who are unable to afford it getting some level of government assistance in order to do so)? That’s a question that Rick Santorum and the Republicans and Tea Party adherents are going have to answer, because I fail to understand whatever reasoning they may have.
The GOP likes to present itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. But where is the responsibility the way healthcare currently works, when those without insurance put off medical treatment until the pain is just too great and until they have no choice but to go to the emergency room? The truly poor then renege on paying the bill, because it is astronomically beyond their means, and the rest of us wind up paying, while others skimp and save as best they can to pay off huge bills, maybe eventually losing homes and going into bankruptcy in the process.
But let’s just forget for the moment all those pesky humanitarian questions about helping people who need assistance, which seem not to even to be part of the discussion these days. Additionally, we’ll pass over the fact that the Republicans appear to be hell-bent on supporting bigger and bigger government involvement when it comes to intruding into the health lives of women, to say nothing of the legitimate consensual relationships of gay people.
So, it seems as though there exists something of a discrepancy in how Republicans view big government. Sometimes it’s apparently very, very good, and sometimes it’s really, really bad, and an “affront to (our) freedom.” I just wish they’d get their story straight. Which is it?
For now, I think I can tell them, at least when it comes to healthcare, and we don’t have to get into all the technical arguments about the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and other such legal niceties that the Supreme Court is considering as we speak. Why not instead just use our common sense and say that we all need health insurance, we’re all going to pay one way or another, and so why not create a sensible system that works, that covers everyone, and that uses a reasonable payment plan that everybody contributes into in order to make it work? That would make sense for all Americans, wouldn’t it? And from what I can see, no matter what certain GOP candidates may say, it doesn’t take away anybody’s freedom in the process either.