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Where’s the Leadership on Healthcare?

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Thursday, December 1st, 2o

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Here’s our plot line. You’ve been in a coma for the past four years and just regained consciousness. You are concerned about your medical expenses, so you check to see what the President and congress have done to make healthcare more affordable. What you find is that both republicans and democrats are deadlocked in a bitter debate on just what needs to be done. The healthcare mandate is a major bone of contention and you remember this same controversial issue raging four years ago. You recall how each side split up. Democrats opposed the mandate and republicans were all for it. Right? Hey friend. You will soon find out that both parties did major flip-flops when it comes to mandating healthcare coverage.

Is there a conservative case to be made for an individual healthcare mandate? There is. Here’s why. Responsible individuals are going to buy health insurance knowing full well that they run the risk of financial disaster if they don’t have proper insurance coverage. The irresponsible person, even if he or she can afford it, takes the attitude that if they face a health emergency, they can always go get free care at the hospital emergency room. Your premiums go up to cover their medical costs. So the present system penalizes those who are responsible, and rewards those who are irresponsible.

So one would assume that conservative republicans would be in support of such a mandate. Before you were forced to hibernate a few years back, that assumption was well founded. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had made the conservative republican case back in 2007 when he said: “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” An “individual mandate” should be applied. Gingrich was taking the party line of most republicans going back a number of years as a way of offering an alternative to Hillarycare.

In 2008, Tommy Thompson, The Secretary of Health and Humans Services under President George W. Bush, said, “Just like people are required to have car insurance, they should be required to have health insurance.” Add to that list of supporters former Senate majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee, and all the Senators who co-sponsored legislation with an individual mandate “” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Senator Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

Here’s what Senator Grassley said just two years ago on Fox News: “There isn’t anything wrong with an individual mandate, except some people look at it as an infringement on individual freedom. But when it comes to states requiring it for automobile insurance, the principal then ought to lie [be] the same for health insurance. Because everybody has some health insurance costs, and if you aren’t insured, there’s no free lunch. Somebody else has to pay for it”¦.I believe there is bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.”

Where are President Obama and the democrats in this debate? If you go back to the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama made no bones about his strong opposition to forcing Americans to buy health insurance. The President said then that “If things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn’t.” There’s no support here from the president for the individual healthcare mandate.

So now you are wondering, what happened? How can President Obama now endorse and defend the very program he once strongly rejected? And what happened to the pro individual mandate position of Newt and his fellow conservative republicans?
Obama and the democrats bit off too much to chew. They paid faint attention to the Hillarycare debacle back in the early 1990s. Not only were there way too many changes in the proposed system, the timing was wrong. As the country sunk deeper into a recession, republicans were having a field day accusing the president of letting the dwindling economy slip off the front burner. He used too many green stamps on healthcare, and got stuck in the debate over economic recovery as the republicans gained traction by attacking Obama’s failure to prioritize the needs of the country.
Republicans smelled blood early on, and choose to let the president go it alone on healthcare reform. The earlier GOP support for the individual mandate fell by the wayside as republicans, particularly those strong conservatives who hollered so much about personal responsibility completely flip-flopped.

The healthcare law is now planted at the feet of the U.S. Supreme Court. All or part of it could be declared unconstitutional. There is a provision that does away with the pre-existing condition clause, but both sides are in agreement that this requirement is constitutional and necessary. If the court does away with the individual mandate, the whole law is put in jeopardy. Such a fragmented law would allow a person to not buy health insurance, get sick, and then rush off to purchase a policy to cover their needs forward. Under such a scenario, insurance premiums would skyrocket.

So should the government compel us to buy something, whether we want to or not? Hey, it happens all the time. You are mandated by law to do a number of things. You must buy auto insurance if you drive a car and purchase flood insurance to get a home loan in areas that flood. The government mandates that you pay taxes, and that you send your kids to school. Isn’t health insurance just another mandate?

The whole issue now sits firmly before the U.S. Supreme Court. And just like the case in Bush v. Gore, politics will play a role in how a final decision is reached. A ruling declaring Obamacare unconstitutional will strike a major blow to the President’s reelection chances. The conservative block of republican appointed justices that include Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy know that. And they just may find such a scenario too tempting to pass up.


There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.”
Alexis de Tocqueville

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the country. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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