Former Vice President, drunk driver, draft dodger and Yale flunker-outter Dick Cheney got a new heart over the weekend. It’s tempting to joke about this—Cheney had a heart?—but that would be in bad taste. The operation seems to have been successful, and since this Dick is only 71, he should have lots more years to stand up for what he believes in, like outing CIA agents, torture, pollution and pardoning felons. I’m sure he has excellent health insurance that paid for all of his needs, just as it did for his five previous heart attacks.
Today, coincidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It’s a piece of legislation that the Republican candidates for the presidency are loudly decrying—even Romney, whom White House senior adviser David Plouffe lauded on Sunday as the “godfather” of the law.
I spent some time over the weekend reading up on the precedents for the decision the Court will be making. I’m no lawyer, though, so the arguments pro and con began to seem a bit arcane. I thought I’d check out what some of the great minds of our time have said about Obamacare to help me make up my mind.
Let’s start with Rick Santorum. Though he’s been called the “poster boy” for health-care reform—according to his 2009 and 2010 tax forms, after his daughter Bella’s birth his family racked up $100,000 in medical costs above what was paid by their insurer, and paid another $100,000 for home care—Rick insists he’s for “free-market health care” and has said, “Obamacare must be replaced because if they give you a right [to free health care], they can also take that right away and also make you do something against your religious beliefs.” He’s called Obamacare “the beginning of the end of freedom in America.” Rick reminds me of the woman who called in to a radio show I was on. She was irate and in tears as she explained how she has two special-needs children with heart problems, that they have insurance and she still pays $3,000 a month for their medical costs, and that those medical costs have already forced her family into bankruptcy—and HOW DARE I SUGGEST THAT THERE WAS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE AMERICAN HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM?!?! I honestly don’t know what you say to people like that.
Let’s look at Newt Gingrich. Last May, he told Meet the Press he favored the individual mandate: “I am for people, individuals—exactly like automobile insurance—individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.” Now he says, “I would always repeal all of it.”
And Mitt Romney? On Saturday, he celebrated the second birthday of the act that’s based on his own initiative—his highly successful and well-liked initiative—in Massachusetts by saying Obamacare was “one more example of a president pursuing his attack on economic and personal liberty.”
Well. Politicians. You know—they’ll say whatever they have to. But what about their friends with more freedom? Like, say, Rush Limbaugh? He said Obamacare is “the greatest single excuse to raise taxes” Democrats have had in “I don’t know how long.” The Tea Party? They sponsored a “Road to Repeal” rally over the weekend in Washington, at which Tea Party Express national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin called the act “a cancer in our government” and vowed to “rip it out.” Michelle Malkin says Obamacare is “a real Washington monster.” Remember Ron Paul? He told a town hall in New Hampshire that we should just count on charities to step up and care for the uninsured.
When so many people I distrust line up to oppose something, I tend to be for it. But I don’t need to listen to politicians and zealots to make up my mind about whether Obamacare will help my family. I’ll just listen to my friend Ruth, who can now keep her accident-prone, skateboard-loving, minimally employed son on her family’s policy a few years longer. Or my friend Jane, whose two bouts with breast cancer made her uninsureable until Obamacare mandated that those with preexisting conditions can no longer be denied coverage. Or the many, many women I know who are pretty damned ticked off that even the most Catholic of insurers cover prescriptions for men’s erectile dysfunction but balk at paying for birth control pills. I’m not saying Obamacare is a panacea. I’m saying it’s a start toward confronting a crisis: The United States lags far behind other nations in terms of the health of its citizens and way ahead of what other nations pay. When Americans go uninsured, we pay for their health care anyway. And their health problems end up more severe and costlier to treat, because of the lack of preventive care.
I don’t know what the Supreme Court will decide. But it’s just stupid to want to go back to the way things were. Charities aren’t going to be able to cover 50 million uninsured Americans even if they want to. The free market has never proven to be the little guy’s friend. Hillary Clinton took the first real stab at health-care reform all the way back in 1993. The Republicans buried her efforts with scary TV ads and false rhetoric, to preserve the status quo that funds their campaigns. Here’s hoping we’ve learned something from 20 more years of ever-rising premiums and shrinking coverage, and that we won’t get fooled again.