The Freak Show: Let The Uninsured Die?

While the news is currently dominated by the Trayvon Martin murder, there’s some drama going on at the Supreme Court that could have a much bigger impact on the lives of Americans. They are in the process of deciding whether the health care reform, the so-called “Obamacare,” is constitutional.

In fact, by the time you read this, there may be a major shift in where our country is headed as far as health care, and by extension our whole economy, since the high cost of health insurance is a major contributor to bankrupting not only many individuals, but state and local governments as well. They are finding that health costs these days are taking more and more of their budget. That in turn causes the need for them to call for higher taxes or layoffs, and just keeps the cycle of economic problems spiraling out of control.

The Supreme Court works a little differently than a regular court. The justices ask questions of the attorneys representing each side. Judging by initial accounts of these hearings, the questioning seems to be along the lines of their ideologies, with the conservative justices asking questions to provoke views opposing the law, and liberal justices trying to provoke answers defending it. Since the conservative leaning justices outnumber the liberal ones five to four, it doesn’t bode well for the law.

It seems like the country is divided over whether they believe the law should be kept or scrapped. Many people believe the Republican rhetoric that there are death panels and that it’s a government takeover of health care. It might be a better law if it was, but it is, without a doubt, anything but that. If you have insurance that you like, you can keep it. It keeps all the private insurance companies in place, and doesn’t change anything as far as what doctors you can go to, or what treatments you’re allowed to have.

The really interesting thing is that when the same people who oppose the law and want it repealed are polled about specific major provisions, they overwhelmingly approve of them. For instance, when people are asked if they like the stipulation that insurance companies cannot turn down people due to pre-existing conditions, they overwhelmingly approve. When they are asked if they like the idea that small businesses get tax credits for providing health insurance for their workers, they overwhelmingly like that as well. When they are asked if they like the provision addressing health insurance companies raising premiums by large amounts when they are already showing record profits, they also approve.

So there seems to be a big disconnect here. The public has this perception that Obamacare is this big monstrosity that will ruin our lives and take over health care. There is a lot in it to not like, but the major provisions, when they are separated out, seem to be things that a vast majority of Americans, even Republicans, are in favor of.

The Supreme Court debate really centers on one issue. Does the government have the right to mandate that everybody buy health insurance? They can decide that the government does have that right, and the law will stand intact, at least for now. If they decide that it doesn’t, they can throw out just that provision and let the rest of the law stand, which will undoubtedly cause more legislation to try and alleviate the problems that causes. Or they can decide that since that provision is unconstitutional, the whole law must be scrapped.

Why is that part of the law needed? First of all, people would be able to not buy health insurance, and then when they get sick, go to the insurance company and get it, since insurance companies wouldn’t be allowed to turn people down with pre-existing conditions. So you would have a whole lot of people only buying insurance when they are sick, therefore forcing the insurance companies to raise premiums on the healthy people who have it in order to pay for the high cost people who only get it when they have high medical bills coming in.

The second issue is about the people who don’t have insurance and get sick or in an accident. Right now there is a law that a hospital can’t turn away someone, and it seems ethically right to not do so. We all know people that don’t have health insurance; especially now when there are a lot of people unemployed and can’t afford private coverage. If it was a friend of yours, would you want them to die because of that? So we treat those people, and the cost is passed on to those of us who have insurance. The cost adds an estimated $1,000 a year to the average family health premium.

There was a hypothetical question that was posed to Rep. Ron Paul during one of the Republican presidential debates. The question concerned someone who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn’t have health insurance. “Are you saying society should just let him die?” he was asked. Some members of the audience enthusiastically shouted out, “Yeah!” This from the party of family and faith.

Paul replied that individual responsibility is the root of a free society. Perhaps we should make people who choose not to get insurance carry a card saying “Do Not Treat.” That way doctors could decide if they want to do it out of charitable goodwill or move on to patients who can pay them.

I understand and sympathize with those who say the government shouldn’t force you to buy something. However, we are forced to buy auto insurance. Will that be up for a challenge if this one succeeds?

Obamacare leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a bad solution to the health care problem. Our leaders are not smart enough to come up with real solutions, or too emboldened to the insurance companies to do so. But it’s better than what we had before, so we should all hope that the Supreme Court finds it constitutional.