John Sheirer: Why the GOP really hates Obamacare — it’s not what columnist Jay Fleitman asserts
NORTHAMPTON — Jay Fleitman’s Oct. 1 column, “Why Republicans hate Obamacare,” contains more inaccuracies than New England has pumpkins this time of year. Like pumpkins, Fleitman’s claims rot with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Let’s shed a few rays.
To begin, Fleitman is wrong about the process of passing the Affordable Care Act. Republicans chose to obstruct the law at every turn instead of working to fix aspects they didn’t like or proposing a viable alternative. Fleitman claims Democrats “crammed” the law past Republicans, creating “enduring bitterness.” Hogwash.
We all remember the protest signs depicting Obama as Hitler or a witch doctor, town-hall screaming fits, lies about “death panels,” and shouts of “You lie!” at the president and “Baby killer!” at Democrats in Congress. Fleitman apparently doesn’t remember, but those displays of bitterness and incivility mostly predated the actual legislative process of passing the law.
Republicans had plenty of opportunity for input as the law took shape, despite Fleitman’s revisionist history. In fact, many aspects of the law were originally Republican ideas they disowned when President Obama endorsed them. The “individual mandate,” for example, was proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation as a personal responsibility provision. Republicans now act as though their idea is tyranny from a dictatorial Obama. As Republicans obstructed, Democrats compromised on single-payer, public option and even contraceptive coverage.
Fleitman also makes false claims about the law itself. Is the law leading to more part-time workers? No, the Bush recession years before the Affordable Care Act caused that. Is the law causing higher insurance premiums? No, premiums are rising at modest rates, and premiums on the Affordable Care Act exchanges are lower than expected. Does the law disproportionately hurt young adults? No, unless new opportunities for young adults to buy affordable, comprehensive health insurance is somehow harmful.
Basic facts such as these are easy to find. The nonpartisan FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com have debunked many Republican claims about the Affordable Care Act. Of course, finding reliable facts about the law requires filtering out biased right-wing sources in the corporate media.
By far Fleitman’s most inaccurate statement is calling the act an “intrusion of central government into the economic and personal lives of Americans, an action contrary to … the nature of American society.” That’s just absurd.
If the Affordable Care Act were actually an example of “central government,” then it would include at least a public option if not actual government-provided insurance or healthcare. Fleitman simply uses slightly modified language to recycle the lie that the Affordable Care Act is socialism. It isn’t.
Fleitman also seems confused about “the nature of American society.” At our best, this nation has a liberal, progressive tradition of government being a force for good in the lives of American citizens. The Affordable Care Act is squarely in the tradition of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — other instances where “we the people” care for one another. One fundamental tenant of American society is that we are all in this together, even if some Republicans need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the American tradition of community.
The act isn’t perfect, but it grows from the view that all of us — citizens, elected leaders and the people of the private insurance industry — can partner to serve the public good. That’s not tyranny or socialism or the end of America or any other hair-on-fire attacks the right has launched against the law. Basically, the law is an attempt at good government, a concept many of today’s Republican saboteurs have trouble grasping as they cheer on their shutdown and default disasters.
The core of the Affordable Care Act is a method to help uninsured Americans get affordable private health insurance. And the law is funded in a way that reduces the federal budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars over the first decade without raising middle-class taxes. Republicans never seem to acknowledge that fact.
In addition, already insured people benefit from many other commonsense aspects of the act that Fleitman ignores: keeping kids on parents’ insurance until age 26; not being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions; not having annual or lifetime benefit caps; requiring that insurance companies spend the vast majority of premiums on actual health care; eliminating insurance coverage discrimination against women; making it illegal to offer substandard coverage or to cut off coverage when people get sick; expanding mental health care.
Fleitman’s column purports to answer the question, “Why do Republicans hate Obamacare?” The truth is three-fold: First, many Republicans “hate” Obama and have made no secret of it. They seem more motivated by their obstruction of the “Obama” part of the law to notice that it has a lot of “care” for American citizens. Second, as Fleitman’s column shows, many Republicans “hate” facts. They are woefully misinformed about the law and frequently pass on their bias-affirming misinformation.
Most important, many of today’s Republicans “hate” effective government. They are terrified that the law will work. That would affirm the deepest fear in the Republican mind, the truth that government can work to help the American people.
John Sheirer of Northampton writes a monthly column. He can be reached at email@example.com.