Opinion: Should We Repeal Healthcare Reform?

Opinion

By Mark Fernald

The newly-elected Republican majority in Congress vows to repeal the healthcare reform bill passed in March.  Before you shout ‘amen,’ consider who will be hurt.

According to a 2009 Harvard Medical School study, over 40,000 Americans die each year because they do not have health insurance.  More people die for lack of health insurance than from drunk driving and homicide combined.

This is not surprising.  As one of the study’s authors observed: “For any doctor … it’s completely a no-brainer that people who can’t get health care are going to die more from the kinds of things that health care is supposed to prevent.”

What is surprising is that those who use healthcare reform as a whipping post completely ignore the lives that will be lost if reform is repealed.  They rail against the cost of the plan, its complexity, and its new mandates, but there’s nary a word about its benefits.  Apparently, saving hundreds of thousands of lives over the next decade counts for nothing.

Saving those lives is at the heart of healthcare reform.  Over 90% of the cost of the bill is to make health insurance available to the uninsured, by expanding eligibility for Medicaid, and by offering subsidies to low income people who cannot afford health insurance.

There are good reasons to keep healthcare reform, aside from the lives that will be saved.  Healthcare reform makes economic sense.  When more Americans have access to health care, our nation will be healthier and more productive.

Healthcare reform will lower our healthcare costs.  The uninsured typically seek medical care at emergency rooms where they don’t need an appointment, and where by law they can’t be turned away.  Emergency room care is the most expensive care in our healthcare system.  Universal health insurance, with coverage for preventive care, means that illness will be treated earlier and more efficiently.  Universal health insurance will also lower the cost of private health insurance by eliminating the shifting of costs from the uninsured to the insured.

Healthcare reform will increase national well-being.  People without health insurance are one heart attack, or one cancer diagnosis away from bankruptcy or death—sometimes both.  Healthcare reform means no one will have to struggle against serious illness and economic ruin at the same time.  The days of desperate bake sales and raffles to pay for someone’s cancer treatments will be over.

The argument that healthcare reform will bankrupt the country is fiction.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has concluded that reform will reduce the federal budget deficit over the next decade.  Opponents have never explained why they believe the United States is the only industrialized nation that cannot afford universal health insurance.

To achieve universal health insurance, additional regulation of health insurers is necessary.  Insurance companies make money by reducing their risk of paying claims.  They will not willingly insure everyone; they would rather pick and choose the healthiest people.

Healthcare reform forbids health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with ‘pre-existing conditions,’ so that the people who need health insurance the most—the people who are sick—have access to health care.

Healthcare reform has come under fire for the “individual mandate”–the requirement that everyone buy health insurance.  This is a logical part of the plan.  If health insurance companies must sell insurance to everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, people will have an incentive to ‘game the system’ by doing without health insurance until they are sick.  If everyone took this approach, our entire health insurance system would break down.  The purpose of the individual mandate is to prevent freeloaders, which is exactly the argument Mitt Romney made in 2006 when he signed the Massachusetts plan for universal health insurance–including an individual mandate.

Is healthcare reform perfect?  Of course not.  Like every major piece of legislation, it will require refinements and improvements.

When Ronald Reagan was president, he was criticized for cutting social programs.  He responded by insisting that he was leaving ‘the social safety net’ intact.  President Reagan used the perfect metaphor for our programs for the poor:  if your life goes into free fall, society will catch you in its safety net before you hit bottom.  If you are hungry, you will be fed.  If you are homeless, you will be given shelter.  Democrats have added that if you are sick, you will be given care because you will have health insurance.  If Republicans succeed in repealing healthcare reform, they will be known as the party that cut a hole in the social safety net, allowing 40,000 lives a year to be lost to curable illness.  Surely they can find a better legacy.

Mark Fernald was the 2002 Democratic nominee for Governor.

One Response

  1. I will share this with everyone I can. Thank you.

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