One of the more frustrating elements of the debate about Obamacare is that the right wing has dictated the terms of that debate.
Resolved: Does American Want Socialized Medicine?
While the Obamacare legislation was being legislated, the debate was about "socialized medicine." As if. Obamacare is no more a government takeover of health care than air traffic control is a government takeover of the skies. Or traffic lights are a government takeover of the roads. (Although the Post Office is, in fact, a government takeover of the mail. Cue to Tea Partiers blowing up their own mailboxes.)
Resolved: Is Obamacare Unconstitutional?
Then there was that interminable debate about whether Obamacare is constitutional. Let me get this straight: Are you telling me that it is constitutional for the government to draft your rear end and ship you to Vietnam to serve as cannon fodder, but somehow it isn't constitutional for the government to make you pay for your own emergency-room care? Oh, come on! If it's constitutional for the government to put you in prison if you fail to buy car insurance, then surely it's constitutional for the government to make you pay a fee if you fail to buy health insurance.
Resolved: Isn't the Obamacare Website Absolutely Sucktastic?
And now the Tea Partiers are shedding crocodile tears over the Obamacare website. The website that they tried to repeal, on 40+ different occasions. The website that went live on the very day that they shut down the federal government. Because, you know, they get really upset if there is any delay in people obtaining Obamacare coverage, since they don't want anyone ever to have it.
Why? Why did the right wing go to such lengths to dictate the Obamacare debate? Because if you're obsessing over government takeovers, and constitutionality, and a website, then you aren't ever talking about:
- closing the "donut hole" in prescription drug coverage for seniors;
- extending coverage and care to 40 million people with preexisting conditions;
- prohibiting insurance companies from literally pulling the plug on patients whose care becomes too expensive;
- allowing young adults up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies;
- eliminating deductibles and copayments for ordinary care for seniors;
- mandating refunds for seniors who are overcharged under the Medicare Advantage program;
- eliminating useless and predatory "junk" coverage;
- prohibiting overcharging on the basis of gender;
- preventing employers who don't offer insurance coverage from making employers who do offer coverage feel like suckers and fools;
- extending Medicaid to the working poor; and
- paying over one-third of the cost of small businesses providing employee healthcare.
Funny, but I don't remember the Republicans ever arguing for the repeal of any of those specific provisions, just the "Obamacare" bogeyman.
Regardless, the autumn Tea Party blitzkrieg to repeal Obamacare really came down to an element of Obamacare that has received little or no mention, except when I mentioned it: the "affordability credits." The government-mandated discounts on health insurance, which generally see to it that you don't have to pay more than 11 percent of your income for health insurance. The discounts that the Kaiser Foundation says will save families who buy their own insurance an average of $2,700 each year. (Actually, to be specific, Kaiser found that 48 percent who purchase their own insurance will qualify for the affordability credits, and for them, the discounts will save a stunning $5,500 each year.)
That's what I'm talking about.
Tea Party Republicans were determined -- no, engrossed; no, bent; no, obsessed; no, consumed; no, possessed by demons -- with the urgent compulsion to prevent the affordability credits from ever going into effect. Because then, you know, people could afford insurance, which means that they would get the health care that they need to stay healthy and alive.
You don't have to take my word for it. A right-wing columnist in a right-wing newspaper (Byron York of the Washington Examiner) wrote this very revealing statement last July, just before the Tea Party repeal efforts went nuclear: "The White House knows that once those payments begin, repealing Obamacare will no longer be an abstract question of removing legislation not yet in effect. Instead, it will be a very real matter of taking money away from people. It's very, very hard to do that."
So if you were wondering why the Tea Party went so far as to shut down the government, and threaten default on the national debt, just to prevent one single aspect of one single government program from being implemented, now you know why.
Look, if you ask people who don't have health insurance why they don't have it, 90 percent say that it's because they can't afford it. Which leaves two options:
- Make it affordable.
- Tell them to go to hell.
Obamacare represents the first option. Maniacal efforts to repeal Obamacare represent the second option.
And now, as of January 1, 2014, America is going with the first option. That's America's New Year's resolution: "Heal the sick."
I feel good about that.
Rep. Alan Grayson