Many moons ago when I was still working, I had a close friend whose brother suffered from multiple illnesses. Unfortunately the brother, who was in his forties at the time, was also poor and could not afford health insurance. So he decided to gamble everything and move to Canada, which had, and still has universal health care. That simply means that if you’re sick, you go see a doctor, and the Government picks up the ensuing costs. The only hitch to this scheme, however, was that you had to be a Canadian citizen to use their health care system, and in order to become that, you had to reside in Canada for at least 18 months. So taking a shot that his health could hold up for a year and a half, he moved to Toronto and hoped for the best. The last I heard, he had made it through the 18-month period, and was being treated by Canadian doctors.
I find it fascinating that we are the only first-world country on the planet that does not provide universal health care. It exists through most of North and South America(even Cuba, as poor as they are), throughout Europe, Japan and the rest of Asia, and so on. France has one of the best health care systems in the world, where all medical and dental bills are paid for by the state. The French plan also includes in-home nursing care for mothers of new-borns, or people whose health has deteriorated to a terminal status. Yet somehow, the most affluent country the world has ever seen cannot put together a system, where rich or poor, everyone could receive adequate medical treatment. Yes it’s true that if your poor and come down with an illness, you can visit any hospital emergency room, and they can’t turn you away for lack of insurance. But you can wait hours to see a doctor, and if you’re lucky enough to where the only thing wrong with you is a sore throat that can be treated with a bottle of anti-biotic pills, or a broken ankle that can be put in a cast, you will receive adequate care. But if your unlucky and have something far more serious like pancreatic cancer, you can bet that the hospital in question will not want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, to try to save your life, if health insurance is lacking.
All this came to mind this past week as the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, more fondly known as Obamacare, was argued before the Supreme Court for 3 days. The most contentious provision for opponents of the Act is the individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase health insurance by 2013. Of course, since all things political in this country these days are done with monumental irrationality if not stupidity, it’s helpful to look at the facts and leave the emotions at the front door. The Act provides that if you don’t purchase health insurance, the Government can assess you a fairly small penalty especially in comparison to the cost of health insurance. But if you don’t pay the penalty fee, then what. The answer is …Nothing. They don’t slap the cuffs on you, they don’t throw you in jail, they don’t even make you go to re-hab. The individual mandate is a clause without teeth since in the end, if you don’t accept it, nothing will happen to you. Yet opponents of Obamacare become apoplectic just at the mention of it. Democracy in this country will cease to exist, capitalism will be gone, and the country will become a Marxist, Socialist, Communist (choose one) dictatorship.
Now it’s true that the Act is a 2700 hundred page behemoth that would be cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment for anyone to have to read and understand it, as Justice Scalia asserted. The Democrats, in their full ineptitude mode, spent nearly 2 years putting together this Frankenstein of a bill, in an attempt to achieve universal health care. With commanding majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats chose total incompetency and let a golden opportunity slip away, as opposition to this Act continued to build up and resulted in voters turning to Republicans in 2010. All the Democrats had to do was extend Medicare to everyone, and put those that couldn’t afford the Medicare premiums on Medicaid, and then pay for the whole thing through a 3-5% national sales tax. The bill could have been written in less than 10 pages and passed within 6 months before widespread opposition was allowed to build up. But, as I said, the Democrats chose to let supreme incompetence rule the day, and thus, suffered the consequences.
As convoluted as Obamacare is, it’s still a serious attempt to allow 30-45 million uninsured people to gain decent medical treatment when the need arises. However, out of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court, 4 are rock solid conservatives, and 4 generally vote along liberal lines. The ninth justice, Anthony Kennedy, is also a conservative, appointed by Ronald Reagan, but once in awhile takes an opposing view in his decisions from the other 4 conservatives. Through all the legalistic machinations that went on this week in both sides’ arguments, there is no question that 4 justices will rule Obamacare unconstitutional while the other 4 will likely say that it does pass muster. Thus the fate of the Affordable Health Care Act then comes down to Justice Kennedy’s decision. The early betting is that, at a minimum, the individual mandate will be ruled unconstitutional. Also from Justice Kennedy’s line of questioning and his comments, it appears that he, along with his 4 conservative brethren, are ready to rule the entire Act is unconstitutional. Thus, by a 5 to 4 vote, an attempt at universal health care in this country will fade away. The Justices will twist themselves into legalistic pretzels, writing lengthy opinions justifying their decisions, but in the end there is nothing in the Constitution that even remotely discusses this subject.
In the end everything is politics and everything depends on which side of the aisle you sit on. And if the Act is declared unconstitutional we’re back to square one, with sharply rising medical costs and insurance premiums, and millions of people unable to obtain decent medical treatment when needed.