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Over the past couple of days I've had the opportunity to watch the House of Representatives in action, courtesy of CSPN, the cable network which televises the United States Congress, as well as other governmental and historical programming. If you have cable, but have never availed yourself of this source, you really need to. And I hope that high school political science classes use this tool that's available to them. It's one thing to crack open a dusty text book, but another thing to watch them in action.
However, perhaps I should have said "House of Representatives in INACTION" in the previous paragraph. It's not a well kept secret that we have one of the most gridlocked federal government ever, but the last two days makes me shudder. It seems the word compromise is a four letter word as of late.
To be fair, both sides of the aisle seem to have issues, though the more conservative side seems to have an extra hard edge to grind. What they seem to forget is that while extra sharp steel may cut quickly, it also gets ground down a whole lot faster and needs more maintenance.
I'm sure by now you've figured out I was watching the debate and voting on HR 6079, a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act 2010. (Though it's usually used as a derogatory term, I'm going to refer to it as Obamacare for the rest of this blog out of expediency).
Obamacare was passed in March 2010, after nearly two years of discussion in the House and Senate. Almost immediately, efforts were brought forth by Tea Party members Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for repeal. None of those bills made it out of committee.
You would think that after dying in committee they might get the message. NOPE! That was during the 111th Congress. During the current 112th Congress, there have been THIRTY-ONE bills introduced for repeal, including the one voted on today. What was not introduced was a reform alternative at the same time.
And there were several Republican Congressmen who were only too happy to exclaim that if they did nothing other than repeal Obamacare, they'd be very satisfied. If my Congressman said he'd be happy with only accomplishing one thing during his two year term, I'd be looking for someone else to vote for.
I think the most perfect illustration of this was from Rep. Al Green (D-TX) who compared a five inch thick copy of Obamacare with an invisible copy of the proposed alternative.
While today's House vote was for repeal, it was a hollow victory because it will never pass muster in the U.S. Senate, nor is President Obama likely to sign it, should it actually reach his desk.
Both sides of the aisle say that healthcare reform is necessary. Obamacare was passed, and has been ruled Constitutional by the United States Supreme Court. People are certainly within their rights to try and repeal it. However, a more rational effort would be to propose alternatives to parts of the Act, rather than simply going back to the status quo; and doing it over and over and over when it's obvious their efforts will not succeed.
What is fascinating is there ARE common traits between Obamacare and Massachusetts healthcare, which was passed under Mitt Romney. I'm not going to say they're carbon copies, but there are things that both sides of the aisle can agree on, if they can get past the partisan bickering.
Massachusetts has a penalty if you don't buy insurance. So does Obamacare. Massachusetts requires companies with 11 or more full-time employees to provide insurance. That requirement doesn't kick in until 50 full-time employees with Obamacare. Both plans prohibit denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Both plans prohibit insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling coverage.
The biggest issue that needs to be worked on is exactly how to pay for it. This is not as easy to answer as comparing a state insurance program vs. a federal one.
Obamacare is basically being paid with new taxes. The sooner proponents admit that, the sooner they can move on to other discussions. Some of the taxes are minimal at best, and won't be noticed. Some are definitely going to hit people more the closer we get to 2018. This is where discussion would be helpful, rather than just sticking their heads in the sand, hoping it will go away.
On the surface Obamacare opponents exclaim they can't be made to buy health insurance. That was my initial reaction. But, then I have to ask how the states can require drivers to buy automobile insurance? You will certainly face a penalty if you're caught driving without it!!
Opponents say people won't be able to keep their current insurance. That's not true. The only way they don't have that option, is if their employer decides to cancel their employee's coverage.
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One of the more egregious things mentioned today were stories of children that had life threatening illnesses before they were born, or immediately after, and had to get treatment just to survive birth. After receiving that treatment they were told they were uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions. How rational is that?
While I'm not personally familiar with those cases I can speak from personal experience.
Many years ago, I was covered by a national HMO under my parent's plan. After graduation, I was able to enroll in the same HMO through my first job after graduating college.
Like millions of other Americans I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and was prescribed medication. Unfortunately, after the company went bankrupt I was laid off. I chose to use COBRA to continue my plan, and paid out of pocket. When I first started paying it was $187/MTh. Over the next four years, there was a steady increase EVERY year until it was $488/MTh, which I couldn't afford so let it lapse.
What's somewhat ironic is my HMO claimed to be a non-profit, yet every year they finished in the black financially, and every year they constantly built new facilities around the Bay Area to the point of being one of the area's larger real estate owners.
As bad as that price increase looks on paper, it wasn't the most incredible part of the whole thing. My new employer happened to offer the exact same HMO for their coverage. I filled out the paperwork to apply. However, I was denied due to a pre-existing condition. They denied me for being treated for high blood pressure.
It would have been interesting to have had a blood pressure cuff on when I heard the reason. I explained to the person on the phone how ridiculous that was since it was their HMO which had diagnosed my situation and had prescribed the medication. There was silence and then a bit of telling me that's the way it was.
After multiple phone calls to multiple departments and mangers they finally woke up and gave me health care. I shouldn't have had to jump through all those hoops and loops to get care; and under Obamacare I wouldn't have.
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It's a shame we have came to a point where we're basically required to get government regulated health insurance. Unfortunately, the emphasis on profit vs. society and legalistic treatment of individuals has driven us to it.