Glawe: Unwinding untruths

Michael Glawe

Last week, I submitted a rather scathing column expressing my contempt for the Tea Party, of which I feel no remorse. I did, however, mention the Affordable Care Act, incautiously neglecting to cite sources to back up my assertions. I received a slap on the wrist from my readers, so it seems that I will have to return to littering my columns with hyperlinks and citations. You win, readers. You win.

Yet another hurdle in the adolescence of one’s writing career is establishing credibility. It is upon that reflection that I wish to make amends, and hammer out the truths of the boogie monster known as “Obamacare.” 

There are a number of inventive myths about Affordable Care Act, and it’s important we set the record straight, as many polls are showing that Americans are both confused and daunted by the law.

There are those who wish to tear Affordable Care Act down because it makes President Obama and the Democrats look good. The mistruths have been a keystone to the confusion. Consider this my attempt to break through that political marketing facade.

I’ll address the myths, but we must establish the context under which we’ve arrived at our present circumstances.

First, health care costs in the United States are obscene.

According to the World Health Organization, Americans spent more on healthcare per capita and as a percentage of GDP in 2011 than any other nation. This is due to a number of different reasons — neglecting preventative care, malpractice costs, etc. — and we can’t single out a specific cause. Americans are willing to pay these costs because, as John Green puts it, they’re “inelastic” — if the prescription you’re taking will save your life, you will reallocate your income to pay for its costs instead of spending money elsewhere.

In an effort to lower skyrocketing healthcare costs and to expand coverage to some 30 million individuals, the 111th Congress along with the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, a more moderate shade of President Nixon’s plan.

The list of provisions is exhaustive, of which this column cannot fully appreciate: eligibility for free preventative care; elimination of “preexisting condition” clauses; establishing health insurance exchanges; prohibiting annual coverage caps; increased support for medical research; subsidizing insurance premiums; reducing the federal deficit by $143 billion; closing the “donut hole.”

Interestingly enough, polls show that Americans don’t like Obamacare, and this has been a key point pushed by the Republican Party. Yet, sifting through the data reveals that Americans overwhelmingly support each of the separate components in the law. Perhaps this is the fault of the supporters of Affordable Care Act for not communicating it well enough.

In addition, there is the individual mandate, which penalizes people for noncompliance. The individual mandate was a Republican idea — I risk making a “quip” here — that sought to prevent people from going to the doctor suddenly, without coverage, and consequentially jacking up premium prices for everybody else.

Individuals have to provide “minimum essential coverage” for themselves and their dependents or risk a penalty “tax.” Individuals under economic hardship can apply for a waiver, and there are other exemptions as well.

Yes, like it or not, this is constitutional — it’s not a “tax,” either, it’s possible under the Commerce Clause — and it’s hardly a newfound power, as Professor Einer Elhauge of Harvard Law School has pointed out. For instance, many of the Founders agreed on legislation to require ship owners to provide medical insurance for their crew.

The federal government is not in the business of health insurance. Essentially, either the federal or state government will run the exchanges, which offer insurance from the private industry. You’re welcome, private industry.

The employer mandate does not “force” employers to provide insurance for their employees. Larger employers, with 50+ employees, face a penalty if they do not offer a plan that meets minimum coverage requirements — I think this is fair. Employers don’t have to enter the exchanges either; they can go through a private broker. The law exempts companies with fewer than 50 employees, which is about 97% of U.S. businesses.

Essentially, 10,000 of the 5.7 million businesses that don’t already offer coverage already would be subject to the penalty – a penalty that will likely cost less than actually buying an insurance plan.

What’s the purpose of the two mandates? To encourage participation in the system, which decreases costs.

I yield to Politifact and other sources here, because these are popular myths that have been thoroughly refuted: No, Affordable Care Act does not ration care like Canada. “Death panels” are a myth. Muslims are not exempt, and neither is Congress. You won’t lose your doctor unless you switch plans —this is uncertain. Affordable Care Act is not a government takeover. Illegal immigrants do not receive free health care. Small businesses will not lay off their employees due to it — this is largely unfounded. The IRS will not have access to your personal information. No, the Affordable Care Act is not socialism; it’s pro-capitalism.

I’ve run out of room. I hope I’ve established some credibility.