Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Unhealthy Debate

This week the Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of so-called "Obamacare," officially known as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010. The issue at the core of the debate is whether or not the U.S. Congress can mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a penalty (which may or may not be considered a "tax"). The idea behind the mandate was that if all Americans have to buy health insurance, insurance companies can charge lower premiums for everyone--even those who are chronically ill or have "pre-existing conditions."

Most critics of "Obamacare" think the government is overstepping its bounds, and that the market for health insurance should remain unregulated. I, too, think the individual mandate is a bad idea, but for different reasons. I think it is a sign of the government doing too little, not too much. By forcing all Americans to buy health insurance, the government is putting even more money into the pockets of insurance companies who profit off people's illness. What I wish the government would do, instead, is to do what nations like Britain and Canada have done--create a single-payer system in which we all pay a health-care tax and are thus all covered. I'd much rather have the money I pay now for health insurance, which goes to a private company, go to a government agency, as long as that agency could really deliver decent health care for all Americans, regardless of employment status, age, sex, or past health. Since that agency would be operating for the public good--not for profit--one would expect that it would be less expensive and more accountable to those it serves (i.e. voters). Also, one wouldn't have to worry about losing one's health coverage if one lost one's job.

If "Obamacare" does get struck down by the Supreme Court, I hope Obama can--in his second term--find the political will and capital to pass something more ambitious, not less. Rather than coercing citizens into filling the pockets of insurance companies, he should show us that truly socialized health care can be more economical and effective in promoting the nation's health than the troubled status-quo.

No comments: