Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Freedom Is Not Our Healthcare Problem, Access Is

Yesterday Tennessee’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill allowing Tennesseans to opt out of the federal Affordable Care Act. Amendments Democrats put forth such as allowing children to receive health insurance despite pre-existing conditions were voted down by the Republicans. How very pro-life of them.

Bill sponsor Terri Lynn Weaver explained:
"This bill is simply about liberty and freedom of choice," she said. "Tennesseans do not want the government telling them their business about health care."

In this NewsChannel 5 video Weaver says of the federal government’s Affordable Care Act:

"It sets a precedent," she said. "Getting involved in health care and making decisions for me and my family is just a no-no.  And we sent that message to Washington.  Tennesseans do not want that mandate or that iron hand, so to speak."

Of course, the Affordable Care Act doesn’t do any of those things. It doesn’t make any decisions for you or your family, it doesn’t mandate any decision at all -- not even the decision to have health insurance. If you don't want health insurance you pay a fee (or call it a tax if you prefer.) No one can predict their future healthcare needs and the uninsured are some of the most expensive to care for because they usually enter the healthcare system when it's an emergency. And they inevitably pass their healthcare costs on to everyone else, so if that is your choice, then the fee/tax covers that cost. That strikes me as a very conservative, Republican approach. Personal responsibility and all that. Oh well. We all know most uninsured are not that way by choice.

The Affordable Care Act doesn’t say you must have insurance or that you can or cannot have this or that procedure (though where abortion is concerned that is debatable). That, as we all know, is what insurance companies do under our current system by denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions or cutting people out of the system because premiums are not affordable. So Tennessee’s Republicans, as usual, are not making any sense.

The reason the so-called "mandate" is in there, the reason Republicans like Bob Dole and Mitt Romney first embraced the idea of an insurance mandate, is because the insurance companies said they needed that if they were going to stop denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Otherwise nobody would buy health insurance until they got sick. So the deal was, everyone had to buy it, or pay a fee. So that’s what Republicans and Democrats did. And now the Republicans are suddenly shocked -- shocked -- that anyone would do such a thing.

Okay so I just have one question for Terri Lynn Weaver and the rest of the Tennessee Republicans in our legislature and Republicans everywhere around the country: what is your solution? I get that you no longer like the idea of a health insurance mandate, but the fact is, the mandate is not the problem. The problem is that there are millions of people denied insurance around the country. There are 800,000 uninsured people in Tennessee. Millions of people depend upon a government-funded insurance program like Medicaid, TennCare, CoverKids, BadgerCare in Wisconsin, etc. The very same programs you're now defunding because you say the state/nation is broke and we can't afford it.

So what is your suggestion for all of those people who cannot access the health insurance system you use?

As Republicans in state legislatures and on the federal level start cutting away at these programs under fiscal austerity schemes, I’d like to point out one very simple fact: the mere existence of this problem is proof that our private, for-profit, capitalistic healthcare system has failed. The mere existence of millions of people denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions or because their high-risk status makes premiums unaffordable indicates our system does not work. The fact that 60% of all U.S. bankruptcies are due to medical debt proves that capitalism has failed healthcare.

Every time you see that jar by the chekout stand bearing a cute kid’s picture asking for donations to cover an operation, or every time you hear of a fundraiser to help pay for someone’s medical bills, the real message is that our private, for-profit health insurance has failed these people. These are healthcare consumers, people who have been forced to go begging because their need has overwhelmed the capacity of the system to provide it. If capitalism worked in this scenario, wouldn't some company have started up to provide these people with affordable insurance? Wouldn't some charity be in existence to fill the need?

So why hasn't it? Doesn't this tell you that government needs to be in the healthcare business? Certainly no one else is doing it. I mean, the only other solution is for people to do without. Is that what Terri Lynn Weaver and the rest of the Republicans are suggesting? That people just do without healthcare? Is that it?

There are millions of potential healthcare consumers in this country who cannot access the system because they cannot afford it, or the nature of their illness makes them too risky for the private system to cover them and still make a profit. Clearly capitalism cannot function in a scenario where there is no profit. That leaves charity. Why are rich assholes like the Koch brothers funding cancer research at MIT, not some non-profit that provides healthcare for the poor? Why is it that those charitable organizations which do exist are completely overwhelmed by the demand?

Why is that?

In short: if capitalism worked in healthcare, then why isn't it working? Why so many in need?

It seems to me that where healthcare is concerned the mere existence of millions of people left uninsured is proof that the system doesn’t work and needs to be changed. And frankly, Republicans, I’m not hearing any ideas from you. Or wait, scratch that: we did hear an idea from you, we implemented it, and now you’re saying you don’t like it.

So ... your move. Unless of course your big idea is to have people suffer. Is that it? Just ... no healthcare for you? That’s the plan?