Posted by: Donna
I’m a “free rider” in the American health care system, apparently.
With the exception of a brief period in 2009, I have lacked health insurance for the past six years. I have preexisting conditions, and even if I didn’t the coverage that is available to a 43 year old woman on the individual market right now is prohibitively expensive. If I could manage to fork out several hundred a month for premiums, it would leave me with a lot less disposable income to cover co-pays and other out-of-pockets. In other words, I would have insurance but not afford to use it. I should mention that I qualify for no government programs, even though I’m a military veteran. So I don’t see the doctor on a regular basis, and the few times I have gotten treated for something I paid for it entirely out of my own pocket. If this is “free riding”, it’s a lousy and frightening experience.
I can definitely do without people who have health coverage generously subsidized through their employers or the government lecturing me about my “irresponsibility”.
For me, the most shocking and disappointing aspect of the health care debate has been the vilification of uninsured Americans. The crux of the argument is that if the Supreme Court overturns the mandate it will unravel the entire Affordable Care Act. Proponents of the mandate portray the uninsured as irresponsible freeloaders, while exaggerating the role they play in the high costs of health care. The uninsured are selfish monsters withholding money from “the system”, just so they can stick virtuous Americans who responsibly carry insurance with their exorbitant hospital bills. The uninsured are also mostly young and think they’re invincible too. In short, the uninsured are the Welfare Queens of health care. That this comes lately at the hands of Democratic supporters of health care reform makes it all the more astonishing.
If that description of uninsured American sounds like right wing boilerplate it shouldn’t surprise you that the individual mandate was a Heritage Foundation idea from the 90s. They proposed that health care was an individual responsibility rather than a collective social obligation and suggested that offering tax credits to buy insurance and possibly fining uninsured Americans was the way to go.
The individual mandate which was included in Obamacare is so close to what Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation initially suggested that we can honestly say there is no appreciable difference between the two. The only real difference is whether Republicans supported the idea or not. When it was branded as a conservative idea from a conservative think tank, then Republicans embraced the idea as requiring “personal responsibility” from all those deadbeats out there who were getting a free ride on the taxpayer’s dime. These were the days when “reforming welfare” was a big deal, and Republicans tended to lump a lot of things under the dreaded “welfare” label, to give some rhetorical context.
***FYI TO THOSE COMMITTED TO THE IDEA THAT “BOTH SIDES ARE EXTREME AND REFUSE TO COMPROMISE”*** The Obama administration embraced a Republican idea (and discarded several ideas on universal coverage and cost control that progressives favored) in a futile attempt to gain some Republican votes and impress you. Please take that under consideration.
That said, I want the entire health care bill to stay in place. I felt differently three years ago, having watched some of the best universal coverage and cost-saving ideas get jettisoned in favor of “bipartisanship” and “making Joe Lieberman happy”. I was pissed about it. But the good things in the law – Medicaid expansion, subsidies, community health clinics, etc. lead me to conclude that, on balance, the ACA is good. I even hope SCOTUS doesn’t strike the mandate down, if only because the mandate isn’t much of a mandate at all. It’s a small tax penalty that will probably not make very many of the (largely nonexistent) hordes of irresponsible young invincibles with buckets of disposable cash straighten up and insure themselves anyway. But the ACA will cause most of the (actual) uninsured to have access to coverage. Who really want health care and will react the same way most people do when health insurance is offered to them on reasonable, and subsidized, terms. You know, like how the majority of Americans who get insurance through their employers already do – they take it.
In other words, most of the ACA, aka Obamacare, already takes care of the “free rider” problem without the unpopular mandate.
Edit: The Pfizer report I linked wasn’t meant to suggest that they were exaggerating the costs added by uninsured people. It was meant to put them in perspective.
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