GENE LYONS: Health reform drives GOP mad
If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, it’s tempting to observe that congressional Republicans have gone stark, raving mad. My own GOP congressman, Rep. Tim Griffin, recently delivered himself of an opinion column boasting about having “voted more than 30 times to repeal all or parts of Obamacare.”
Only in politics does somebody expect praise for sheer futility.
Characteristically, Griffin’s column began by misrepresenting Sen. Max Baucus. No, the retiring Montana Democrat didn’t call Obamacare a “train wreck.” In context, Baucus was complaining about Congress’ refusal to adequately fund programs helping people understand the law. With so much disinformation out there, he feared that public ignorance would lead to citizens initially missing out on its benefits.
But then fostering public ignorance is the whole GOP game plan at this point. Having been defeated in the House and Senate, failing to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and being rejected by voters in the 2012 presidential election, disinformation and sabotage are all they’ve got left.
In that spirit, Griffin quoted the Washington Examiner, one of those tycoon-funded right-wing propaganda publications reporting that “cost estimates from 17 of the nation’s largest insurance companies indicate that health insurance premiums will grow an average of 100 percent under Obamacare, and that some will soar more than 400 percent.”
Yeah, well the results are starting to come in. In California and New York, the nation’s two most populous states, which have set up health care exchanges, premiums have dropped sharply below Congressional Budget Office projections.
According to the New York Times, “State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.”
Similar savings have been achieved in California. They can be expected anywhere that large numbers of Americans can be persuaded to buy into the program and quit playing health care roulette.
But then that’s how insurance works — auto insurance, life insurance, homeowners’ insurance, all insurance. By spreading the risk, you lower the cost to individual customers.
That’s the basic insight that led Benjamin Franklin to found the Philadelphia Contribution for Insurance Against Loss by Fire back in 1752. The more people purchase private health insurance through Obamacare, the lower their premiums and the lower the eventual cost to taxpayers.
Not to mention the enormous gain in personal freedom to individuals who can no longer be denied coverage due to “pre-existing conditions,” bankrupted by unexpected medical conditions, or forced to keep a job they dislike for fear of losing health insurance. Under Obamacare they can take it with them.
A certain kind of Republican, however, still doesn’t get it. Here’s GOP patriarch Ronald Reagan in 1961 inveighing against the dangers of “socialized medicine.” Unless Americans rejected it, he predicted, “one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
And what was Reagan talking about? Medicare. Should it be enacted, he warned, the plan to provide for Grandma’s medical bills would lead to government seizure of all doctors’ offices and hospitals. An all-powerful state would dictate where Americans would live and what their jobs would be.
Of course the Gipper was only an actor, reading a tycoon-approved script. After he became president, he vowed to protect Medicare, already one of the most popular and successful government programs in U.S. history — along with Social Security, another threat to freedom as the scripted Reagan saw it.
Some still do. A local Republican politician of my acquaintance once suggested that if I liked Obamacare so much, I should leave the country. I responded that as the losing party, maybe he should emigrate.
And good luck finding a country without universal health insurance and with indoor plumbing.
It’s true that with Red State politicians dragging their feet, and Republican congressmen whose offices routinely assist constituents to work out Medicare and Social Security problems telling reporters they’ll refuse to help with Obamacare, the short-term rollout could be bumpy.
Over time, however, the Republican right is setting itself up for epic failure. Partisan passions aside, people want and need reliable health insurance. Doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies need it as well.
This too: Never mind the politicians. Health insurance companies are going to market Obamacare big-time. Since the law mandates that 80 percent of premiums must be spent on benefits, the only way the insurance industry can enhance profits is by finding more customers.
It’s the American way.