In a sane climate, Mitt Romney would be running for president on his one big success as a politician: achieving something close to universal private health insurance coverage as governor of Massachusetts. Romneycare cut costs, improved health care outcomes and is quite popular there.
Alas, President Obama’s election has driven many Republicans so crazy that the putative nominee makes an unconvincing show of despising his own brainchild.
Has there ever been a more unconvincing faker in American politics? Romney acts as if he thinks voters are morons. But then, right-wing hysteria over the Supreme Court’s upholding “Obamacare” shows he could be correct.
Mandating health insurance wasn’t Romney’s own idea. The conservative Heritage Foundation saw it as a way to realize the practical and moral benefits of a socialized, government-run health care system like Canada’s through private, for-profit insurance companies — the best of both worlds.
Romney even wrote a 2009 USA Today column advising President Obama about the mandate’s advantages: “Using tax penalties, as we did [in Massachusetts], or tax credits, as others have proposed,” he wrote, “encourages ‘free riders’ to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.”
The president put it this way in reacting to the Supreme Court’s validating Obamacare: “People who can afford to buy health insurance should take the responsibility to do so.”
So is it a tax, or is it a penalty?
The correct answer is “who cares?” Provide your family with the security of a decent health insurance policy and you don’t need to pay it.
Tyranny? Oh, grow up. The government can already make you sign up for Social Security, educate your children, vaccinate your dog, send you to fight a war in Afghanistan, limit how many fish you can catch, and put you in prison and seize your property for growing pot.
Furthermore, Justice Roberts is right. The U.S. government encourages all kinds of virtuous behavior through the tax code. You can get married, or pay higher taxes. Buy a house, have children, invest in a retirement account, even raise cattle (my personal favorite) or pay higher taxes.
And buying health insurance is an intolerable offense against liberty?
Ask Rush Limbaugh who pays for his Viagra. Answer: his employer-provided health insurance company. Only impoverished people, deadbeats and fools go without it.
And guess what? You’re already paying for their medical expenses when time and chance happeneth to them. As it happeneth to everybody, even right-wing Supreme Court justices who think it’s clever to compare an inessential food like broccoli to a universal human need like health care.
You can eat your vegetables or not; it’s entirely up to you.
But you can’t not get sick or hurt. And moral considerations aside, the rest of us can’t risk letting you lie down and die on the road. After all, it might be communicable. So there’s no non-participation in the health care system. Even if they drag you in feet-first, there you are.
And somebody’s got to pay for it.
It follows that the minority’s distinction between “activity” and “inactivity” with regard to health insurance is not merely specious legalistic jargon. Frankly, it’s downright adolescent.
Justice Scalia may increasingly resemble a small, volcanic Caribbean nation — eat your vegetables, Tony — but even he is not an island. We’re all in this together.
Previous to Obamacare, the United States has had the most inefficient health care finance in the advanced world, spending by far the highest percentage of its GDP on health care while getting worse results. Most western countries spend a fraction of what we do on health care and their citizens are demonstrably healthier.
Ending the perennial war between hospital bureaucrats and number crunchers at insurance companies and government agencies over who’s going to pay for indigent care should begin to change that.
Meanwhile, now that Obamacare has passed constitutional muster, it’s time for the wise and judicious American public to get off their lazy keisters, ignore the hysteria and learn what’s in the law and what’s not.
I recently took a brief online quiz sponsored by the Kaiser Foundation. I hope you won’t think I’m bragging by saying I got a perfect score. It’s my job to know the basics. Apparently, most Americans don’t. The percentage of citizens ignorant of even the new law’s most basic provisions was shocking.
Granted, the White House has done a terrible marketing job. But no, there’s no new government-run insurance company. If you’ve already got a policy you like, keep it. No, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees need not provide insurance; but, yes, they get tax credits if they do. No, undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for help.
Many of you have mistakenly trusted carnival barkers like Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. Now that Obamacare’s the law, ignorance is no longer an excuse.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.)