By Jim Elliott
Well, the dust has settled and Obamacare is still the law of the land, proving two things; talk is cheap and political talk is even cheaper.
I have never understood why universal health insurance, which was first introduced to the world by Germany in 1883, was so unpopular with so many Americans.
Well, actually, I do; the health insurance industry has fought it tooth and nail and has been generous enough in its advertising and propaganda that it has convinced the American people that having the American government insure American citizens is un-American. Go figure.
But the insurance giants do like Obamacare because all those newly insured Americans have to buy it through the insurance companies. Stands to reason, doesn’t it?
Those who didn’t like Obamacare—and now will have to go on not liking it—are the Republicans, and for two contradictory reasons; first, it wasn’t their idea, but second, it was their idea. Perhaps that needs some explaining.
The concept behind Obamacare was actually developed by Republicans. First in 1974 by President Nixon and again in 1994 in Massachusetts by Gov. Mitt Romney. The individual mandate (complete with penalty) was championed by none other than Newt Gingrich in 1993. They just didn’t have the idea to actually get it passed.
But the implementation of a Republican idea by a Democratic administration must be just too hard to accept. So basically, if the concept of Obamacare is really Republican, it would appear to me that the Republicans’ biggest problem with Obamacare is the name.
To fix that, they could have just pulled a bait and switch; get rid of Obamacare and replace it with an identical law called Trumpcare. So simple. Sad.
Ironically, when the Democrats were in the identical position as today’s Republicans—complete control of government—they were unable to pass the Democratically preferred version of universal health care coverage by simply expanding Medicare for everyone under 65. Instead, because the insurance industry was not about to let universal coverage pass, Democrats had to introduce a law so complex that they couldn’t even explain it clearly to the general public.
There are, however, two serious points that need to be addressed; the individual mandate with its penalty, and the cost to the government.
The individual mandate is simple, if annoying; if everybody’s not insured it doesn’t work, just like Social Security wouldn’t work if people could opt out of it. In its broadest sense the concept of insurance is to spread the risk—and therefore the cost—across the entire population. When one group of people is allowed to go uninsured it raises the cost for everyone else. Hence the penalty. Younger people, who are generally more healthy, don’t see the need for health insurance and might be tempted to go without it if there were not a disincentive to do so.
The other point is that we constantly hear that America’s financial situation is such that it is possible that paying for Obamacare will cause a big financial problem down the road. Well, of course, but instead of fixing the supply problem—which is finding the money to pay for it—by making the wealthy and corporations pay a responsible tax rate, the solution is to cut down on the demand side by penalizing the average American citizen.
Again, to use Social Security as an example, Social Security’s potential insolvency could be fixed by making all income—not just the first $127,200—subject to the Social Security tax. That would cover 90 percent of the projected shortfall. There is no cap on income subject to the Medicare tax, so why not treat Social Security the same?
In the world’s richest country, there is no excuse for poor mouthing while billionaires and giant corporations get away with paying a lower tax rate than the middle class.
Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek.