The Supreme Issue

Published: March 30, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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In an Op-ed for U.S. News and World Report, GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum wrote that “Polls show Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to ObamaCare, especially the individual mandate.”

Is he right or wrong?

While the Supreme Court deliberates the constitutionality of The Affordable Care Act, Pollster Mark Blumenthal at Huffington Post has done some fairly comprehensive work cataloging the public’s views.

Pew Research finds that 47% “approve” of the measure, while 45% “don’t approve.” USA Today/Gallup finds that 45% believe it’s “a good thing,” while 44% call it “a bad thing.” CNN/ORC has 43% favoring the bill with 50% opposed.

In comparing all polls done over that last two years since the bill has been signed into law, Blumenthal found that 46.6% oppose, while 38.7% approve of the legislation.

Looking at the data, I would hardly quantify Americans as being “overwhelmingly opposed,” as Santorum states, but clearly many don’t like the individual mandate clause requiring each individual to pay into the system or face a penalty.

President Obama’s Health Care law is a thorny issue with deeply divided views. It’s also a law with several ethical issues running through it:

Should the federal government be permitted to order individuals to participate in healthcare insurance or face a penalty? Should the current insurance system, whereby insurance companies get to determine who and what will be covered regardless of the opinion of doctors be allowed to continue? And how should we deal with the poor and needy who can’t afford insurance?

It’s a complex issue and there are no easy answers, except one: the current system is unsustainable.

One favorite refrain made by politicians and groups opposed to the law is that they absolutely stand opposed to government run healthcare. The problem with that statement is that the government already runs and operates Medicare and Medicaid, the later being provided by the government to low-income individuals and families.

Medicare is funded by the Social Security Administration. We all pay 1.45% of our earnings into the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and employers pay another 1.45%. The self-employed pay 2.9%. It’s interesting to note that many of the same folks who are picketing and shouting against the government taking over healthcare are some of the same folks currently benefiting from a similar system.

One of the best distillations of the healthcare debate can be found in a TIME magazine opinion written by journalist Fareed Zakaria (Health Insurance is for Everyone, Mar. 26). Zakaria’s central argument for Obamacare is in the article’s sub-head: “It’s the only way to deliver lower-cost healthcare – with better results.”

“Twenty years ago,” Zakaria writes, “Switzerland had a system very similar to America’s–private insurers, private providers–with very similar problems. People didn’t buy insurance but ended up in emergency rooms, insurers screened out people with pre-existing conditions, and costs were rising fast. The country came to the conclusion that to make health care work, everyone had to buy insurance. So the Swiss passed an individual mandate and reformed their system along lines very similar to Obamacare. The reform law passed by referendum, narrowly.

“The result two decades later: quality of care remains very high, everyone has access, and costs have moderated. Switzerland spends 11% of its GDP on health care, compared with 17% in the U.S. Its 8 million people have health care that is not tied to their employers, they can choose among many plans, and they can switch plans every year. Overall satisfaction with the system is high.”

During this past week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the merits and demerits of The Affordable Health Care Act over three days, covering a variety of issues involved. The transcripts and audio offer a revealing look at the back and forth Q&A.

Due to the highly charged politicization of the law, opinions, both pro and con, continue to be spun, re-spun and flung onto cable TV and the blogosphere to overwhelm even the most dedicated of interested and educated citizens. Nonetheless, I encourage everyone to research and read the available information on their own with a focus on the facts to reach their own conclusions.

Zakaria points out that “The Obama health care plan is not perfect by any measure. It maintains the connection between employment and health care, which is massively inefficient and a huge burden on American business.” Further, Zakaria says that “The Obama bill expands access to 30 million Americans. That’s good economics and also the right thing to do. But it does little in the way of controlling costs.”

The ethical bottom line for me is this: We cannot continue under the current system. It’s unfair, too costly and gives far too much control to the insurance companies; Secondly, we will always need to take care of the poor and needy in this country and that’s only right; Thirdly, with any program, there will always be waste, fraud and abuse. Whatever system we adopt, government needs to be far more rigorous in pursuing abusers with severe consequences.

Finally: While on the one hand, it seems patently unfair (and perhaps unconstitutional) to ask all Americans to pay for health insurance or face a penalty, those same folks seem to have no problem when asked to pay for required car insurance. I’ve been a member of the Auto Club of Southern California for thirty years, and have been a subscriber to their car insurance for almost as long. It works.

While it may seem unfair to ask everyone to pay into a Health Insurance plan, the simple fact is the more people who are within an insurance plan, the lower the cost. And given the economic recovery, isn’t that a good thing?

So, here’s the question of the week: Do you think Obamacare should be repealed altogether, in part or amended?

Tell me what you think.


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