Liberally Speaking (4/8/10)


Correcting health care misinformation

April 8, 2010

By Steve Mount

My task this week is to write about the new health care law, and you might think that I would be full of praise for the new law and its provisions. But I have something more important to write about. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited the bill made it through the congressional gauntlet and the president was able to sign it, but I’ve heard a lot of misinformation about the law that I think has to be addressed, lest that misinformation become “common knowledge.”

First, the response of many Republicans to the new law was to launch a campaign to “repeal and replace” the law. Obviously, the minority party does not have the votes to do either yet, but the plan was to get enough votes in Congress in the next election.

I’m not going to say it is outside the realm of possibility, but I think the voter anger that the Republicans will have to tap into to get sufficient numbers, a whopping two-thirds of both houses of Congress, simply won’t be there in November — at least not at the level needed to put this plan in motion. I think as people hear more about the law, they will come to agree with its provisions and look forward to them coming into effect.

Republican leaders, initially so keen on “repeal and replace” that it was reported as a new campaign mantra, seem to have already begun to back away from the notion. That’s a bit of good news.

Another common misperception, willingly hoisted upon the public by conservative pundits and politicians, is that the law creates “socialized medicine.” Socialism is a big dirty word in Washington, and is bandied about with abandon. What the law provides, however, has no resemblance to socialism.

Socialists believe in government takeover of industry. The health care law is no government takeover. Health insurance, for most, is still provided by insurance companies. Doctors are not government employees. Drugs are not produced by government factories. Under the law, the private sector is still a vital part of the health care system.

Anyone who is decrying the law as a socialist takeover is either not aware of what the word means or is deliberately using inflammatory language to scare the public.

Another tidbit playing on peoples’ fear is that the law creates a new IRS army, and that one of 16,500 armed agents will be knocking on your doors to see proof that you are properly insured. There will be penalties, eventually, if individuals remain uninsured, and these will likely be assessed at tax time. The personal mandate is necessary for the system to work, to spread the liability. But the law is also quite specific: the IRS may not confiscate assets or property, nor impose jail time, for failure to have insurance.

Simply put, armed agents will not be knocking on your door for failure to comply with the law.

Also in the news of late is word that more than a dozen attorneys general have filed or plan to file suit against the federal government, alleging that the new law is an unconstitutional power grab. Other attorneys general, with a bit more common sense and legal precedent on their side, have refused to sign on to the effort.

The Supreme Court, in its prior rulings, has said that insurance regulation is an interstate commerce issue that Congress can regulate. Even conservative stalwarts like Justice Antonin Scalia have agreed, if reluctantly, that such regulation is constitutional.

I won’t say that all of these cases are political posturing, but some of them surely are, and they won’t come cheap. Attorneys general in Kentucky and Arizona said they would be a waste of taxpayer money. Vermont’s attorney general has not even wasted space on his Web site to announce that he won’t join in any such frivolous lawsuits.

The fact is that we now have a health care law in effect. It is not perfect — far from it — but it is a starting point. As its features are phased in over the next few months and the next few years, we will be able to see what’s working and what’s not and make changes to ensure that the economy can adapt to it. The public, in the meantime, can set its collective mind at ease by checking on what the politicians and pundits are saying, discarding the misinformation and learning more about what the law actually does.

 

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.