Columns 2012

Don’t throw baby out with the bath water

Here’s what I don’t understand about the health care debate. I don’t understand the expressed claims of conservatives that this law was passed quickly, with practically no debate or study of its effects on either our economy, our national debt or health care costs. If this really surprised them, then I have to wonder where they’ve been for the past forty years as this issue was being debated from every possible angle. I further have to wonder if conservatives aren’t getting just a little bit forgetful since the part of the bill they seem to find most objectionable, the individual mandate, was an idea first put forth by… you guessed it, Republicans.

The idea of universal health care did not come suddenly out of left field, blindsiding a Congress that had never heard about it before. And the idea of Congress passing bills that would add billions upon billions to our national debt is also not terribly surprising. If you really want to talk about an unfunded mandate that came out of nowhere and got passed with no follow up plan to pay for it, think Iraq war or Medicare prescription benefits. Yet I did not hear one Republican gripe, bitch or even slightly question the wisdom of what has turned out to be a disastrously expensive war with what can most politely be expressed as a questionable outcome or a health care benefit that is draining federal coffers.

Opponents to the health care law keep saying we have to repeal it and put in place a better one. In fact, some senators, with a totally straight face, have been known to opine that we need to debate and discuss this issue so we can come up with a solution that works. And I have to wonder why, if they have a better idea, they’ve been sitting on it for so long?

In the interests of full disclosure, let me say that I’m one of the lucky ones. I have retirement insurance from municipal employment and I have Medicare coverage. So there is a part of me that probably doesn’t have to give that much of a darn about whether you have yours because I have mine. The problem is that’s not the way I was raised.

I was raised to believe we are all in this together and we will sink or swim as one. When one class of society has the coverage needed to pay for their child’s asthma treatment and another group in society has to depend on frantic trips to an emergency room with no follow up care available, eventually society will pay a price in class unrest and, potentially, warfare. So it just makes sense to try and provide some basic necessities in life to everyone so that everyone has a chance to contribute to our society. Health is about as basic to that happening as food and water.

What I find most puzzling is that if you break down pieces of this law and ask people about it, they mostly approve of the components. I don’t know of any family opposed to being able to keep their children on their insurance longer while the kids get established. Given that it takes a lot longer for kids to get independent nowadays, being able to keep them longer on your insurance – assuming you are lucky enough to have it – is a blessing.

Then there’s the provision that forbids insurance companies from refusing coverage for a pre-existing condition. Who could possibly object to that humane, common sense mandate? Or how about the requirement that insurance companies remove the lifetime benefits ceiling which, in today’s world of high tech medicine, can be reached and exceeded with one serious illness? Or the one where the insurance companies can’t kick you off their plan for actually getting sick? Anyone out there objecting to that needs help.

Finally, if you want to discuss death panels, let’s discuss for profit insurance companies that win when you are denied coverage or it is delayed until you die. I think their board members can be considered death panels since they make their bonuses based on your death.

The currently health care law may not be perfect. It could use tweaking. But throwing the baby out with the bath water is not the solution.