Commentary: 'Obamacare' and the voice of 'the American people'

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverJuly 6, 2012 

After the U.S. Supreme Court basically supported the legality of what Republicans have come to call “Obamacare,” the GOP’s bombastic leaders went on and on and on about what an outrage it was and how disastrous it was going to be for “the American people.”

They spoke for “the American people,” they said, who, if given the choice, would run over all 2,000-plus pages of “Obamacare” as if it were a possum on a two-lane blacktop at midnight.

Mitt Romney, the once-moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts who presided over the installation of something very similar to the president’s health care reform in his state, used the high court’s ruling to put it to “the American people” that by golly, this was 1776 all over again and that the only way they were gonna get rid of Obamacare would be to get rid of Obama.

Coincidentally, that would make Republican nominee-designate Romney, who’s had more plastic surgery done on his political positions than Joan Rivers has on her cheekbones, the next president.

As one of “the American people,” your correspondent suggests that there might be a few people who’d opt out of Romney’s offer to speak for them. The idea that politicians think they probably deserve to be elected unanimously because they know “the American people” is annoying as all get-out whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats.

The GOP strategists are using “Obamacare” as a device to raise money and stir up opposition to the president. The people buying their pitch don’t like President Obama, for various reasons. Health care reform seems like a hook on which to hang their feelings against the president.

So after the high court ruling, let’s take a breather and consider what “Obamacare” doesn’t do: It’s not a government takeover of health care. The insurance system still is in place, but most everyone will have to have it. Over time that ought to lower the cost for others. (And by the way, government has long been in the health care business through Medicare, which works well for the vast majority of recipients.)

What it does do is, in time, help people who have pre-existing conditions get coverage, make coverage more affordable, cover more children, allow parents to keep their kids (who may not have coverage in their first jobs) on their insurance for a while and generally aim for what’s called universal coverage. Some of the benefits of “Obamacare” already are in place. By 2014, more will be.

And Mitt Romney, who had no problem with this type of care when he was governor of Massachusetts, says he’ll repeal “Obamacare” as his first priority. Great. Nothing like a man with conviction.

For millions and millions of people. the ones with insurance, anyway, the American health care system works fine. We get timely and good care and we like our docs. We respect their training and their right to be compensated for their skills, something health care reform respects as well.

But the competition among hospitals (buying doctors’ practices, etc.) and an insurance system that’s connected to employment has made for a patchwork, a confusing system of care for the average patient. (I recently had a minor surgical procedure, but couldn’t go to Rex Hospital, where I normally would have gone, because my insurer isn’t accepted by UNC Hospitals, which owns Rex. My doctor, who normally would have done the procedure at Rex, went to WakeMed to treat me, which I greatly appreciated. Everything was cool. It’s a very fine hospital.)

There are, for example, instances where one hospital will have the capability for complicated eye surgery, for example, and another will not. Some doctors don’t take calls at all hospitals.

More and more, hospitals are acquiring doctors’ practices, which means that if a patient’s insurance isn’t accepted at such a hospital, that patient is going to have to change doctors. And if a patient winds up at a hospital that doesn’t accept his or her insurance without knowing it, a huge bill may cause financial mayhem.

In other words, the system isn’t perfect, and so what’s wrong with reform that might make it better? Yes, the path to reform was indeed rocky, and mistakes were made by well-intentioned advocates. But more than a few of “the American people” have had problems of one kind or another in the current health care system, problems that were not of their making and beyond their control.

For that reason and others, the “repeal Obamacare” bandwagon, with Mitt Romney riding shotgun, may have more empty seats than Republicans realize.

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