By Jerry Mooney
As I witness the chasm growing among our nation's political left and right I am forced to reflect on how curious America's political emotions have become. How is it that a new law, that in its mandates, outlines protections of our citizens, has so many angry? Although the answer is somewhat simple, outlining it in a way that is effective in exposing this answer appears to be challenging. Therefore, my attempt is to provide a factual look at what has happened, compare the motives of the opposing sides and provide some context, that hopefully, will remove some of the venom from the subject of the new health care law.
In order to evaluate the law that has been recently passed it is critical that we view what the law really does and doesn't do. It is my suspicion that most of the anger that surrounds this new law stems from misunderstandings and fear based on inflammatory language not grounded in facts. As such, I feel that when the truth of this law is shown, the fear, anger and vitriol should subside significantly in kind.
The primary concern that I have heard surrounding the new health care law, that has at least some foundation in fact, is that it is an expensive law. As such, our children and grandchildren will be strapped with a large tax burden because of our nation's out of control spending. Although I am sympathetic to the concerns surrounding our government's spending, those concerns seem misplaced regarding the health care law. How can I make such a bold statement regarding a $1.2 trillion legislation? Although the total price tag, taken out of context for the health care law is in fact $1.2 trillion, the actual impact of the law is a budgetary positive $143 billion this decade and $1.2 trillion over the next two decades. These numbers come from the Congressional Budget Office, which has no political leanings, (left or right) and is the referee that both Republicans and Democrats use when scoring budgetary impacts of legislation. If these numbers are even close to true (and there is no real reason to doubt them, other than political posturing) then this law is not only not a burden on the budget, but the largest deficit reduction bill passed in nearly two decades. These numbers should alleviate the concerns of those willing to look at the facts of the law and not the fear based rhetoric designed to manipulate the electorate.
The next most frequently expressed concern is that this is a "government takeover of our health care." Not only is this statement untrue, there is nothing in this statement that has any facts. If it were factual that it is a takeover why should that scare us? This rhetoric is specifically designed to sound scary because it's a "takeover". Eek! A takeover! We're doomed! Now if this were truly a government takeover of our health care system, the end result would look more like Medicare, or the military and Congressional health plans. And although these programs are quite attractive and are examples of governmental takeovers of segments of our health care system, this is not what we received. The law that passed does not provide a single payer system (like Medicare) or even a public option (which would be a government provided option to the free market providers to insure pricing fairness). No, this law does neither of those things. In fact, it leaves the insurance system in place as well as your doctors and your ability to choose your provider. What the bill does is simply regulate the unfair and unscrupulous practices currently prominent within insurance plans. Insurance will be required to insure those with per-existing conditions and those whose medical bills have exceeded the insurer's profitability metric. This law will require insurers to spend more of their revenue on health care and preventive care. In a nutshell, this law requires the insurance companies to do what they should have been doing all along.
The third major misconception is that this is a big welfare plan, allowing the lazy to suck at the tit of the workers of this country. Again, this is not true. The insured will still pay premiums just like in the past. However, because individuals will have access to the pools of other individuals, they will be able to enter the market place for insurance with more purchasing power, just like large business can. It's like unionizing the purchasing of insurance. In fact, because 30 plus million people will enter the ranks of the insured, insurers should be able to reduce premiums across the board (although they will unlikely do such a thing, due to their addiction to massive profits.) Small business will receive a 35% tax break in order to aid in insuring their employees. If they choose not to (Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from being required to provide insurance), the employees are free to enter the pool as individuals and benefit from the strength of the pooled purchasing power. If thebusiness does provide insurance, the tax credits can offset their costs, allowing them to have a more attractive work environment without shouldering all of the burden of providing insurance. Perhaps, with the tax breaks and reduced costs, the business may even see reduced expenses.
The fourth most commonly expressed fear, and perhaps the most radicalized and distorted is the individual mandate. This is the part of the law that "requires" people of the country to have insurance. There is so much confusion and misrepresentation of this aspect of the law that it is necessary to explain what it is, what it isn't and why it is valuable. What the individual mandate is, is basically a requirement to have insurance in order (and this is key) to receive the same tax consideration as other insured individuals. What does that mean? Well, there will be no additional police or IRS agents out enforcing the mandate. What will happen is that when you file your taxes, you will be asked if you have health insurance (very much like when you are asked if you are married). If you have insurance, your tax qualifications will be more beneficial than if you don't have insurance (very much like whether or not you are married). If you don't have insurance, you will not receive the tax benefit outlined for the insured. How is this justified? Simply put, if you don't have insurance, you are a risk for catastrophic medical care that, without insurance, would fall on the tax payers of the entire country to absorb. Currently, the insured pay twice. They pay for their insurance and they pay $1100 a year in shared taxation because of the burden created by the uninsured who have crashed upon the medical system. In as much as you don't have insurance and the rest of the country becomes responsible for your at-risk behavior. As such, your potential drain on the revenue of the the general population puts you in a category where you do not receive the tax benefit for having insurance.
So, how does such a reasonable law receive so much opposition from so many that will benefit from it? This is the most important question. When the answer to this question is understood, then the power behind the manipulation becomes toothless. Have you heard expressions like "government takeover of health care", "Obamacare", "Socialism", "Communism", "death panels", "care rationing", "bankrupting of America" and more? These terms provide exactly zero facts and contribute nothing to the discussion of the facts about this law. But the facts seem to have a very populist lean. Therefore, in order to obscure the facts, so that those who would benefit from this law oppose it, these rhetorical tricks are used. They manipulate the emotions of the American electorate so that they end up voting against themselves. This is tantamount to the chickens voting for Colonel Sanders. I use this metaphor purposefully, because it is the intention of the opposition to scare you, i.e. make chickens out of you. Why? Because there are deep pockets to be lined. And this law increases taxation on the wealthiest 2% of Americans while giving tax breaks to middle America. Therefore, those who are taxed by this law have hired armies of lawyers and advertising agencies to manufacture as much fear and confusion about this law as possible. They knew that if the majority of Americans knew what was in the law they wouldn't oppose it. Thus, their only tactic available to oppose it without creating major political casualties for the Republicans was to wrap the law up in as many confusing and scary labels as possible. By doing this they were able to effectively convince the metaphorical chickens to support the Colonel. Now, hopefully, we can distribute some facts and alleviate some of the panic that has been growing and perhaps even move towards a more unified nation.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license
Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of Zenruption and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company that made him a millionaire before the age of 40. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter @JerryMooney