I view the editorial cartoon in today’s [Thursday July 12] Empire as an irresponsible example of all that is wrong with political discourse in America today. It takes an emotional, grossly oversimplified, and misleading position about a serious and complex public policy question.
First, a disclaimer. I have been a registered Democrat since 1968, when I saw the Republican party growing less tolerant of moderate views. I also believe that government’s role in health care, which is already substantial, must be increased to ensure both cost controls and improved access to health care for the uninsured and underinsured.
Second, some background. After I retired from my position here as a legislative attorney, we spent several years in Portland, Oregon for personal reasons before returning to Alaska. During our years outside, I was very active in a multi-faith organization that looked at issues affecting the quality of life for struggling families. After two years of study, one of the four topics we focused on for further work was health care. It goes without saying that we learned the complexity of the existing health care systems and found that there was no easy solution. Like any complex problem, it would require a complex solution.
We tackled only one aspect: how to bring down the cost of health care to the paying public, insured or self-insured, while still providing basic health care for those who were not receiving at least Medicaid or Medicare coverage. Because one inflationary driver is the cost to providers (ultimately to their other users) of serving the emergency needs of those who can not pay, we realized that there had to be some way to cover those costs, the largest portion of which were hospital emergency room charges.
Governor Romney’s Massachusetts health care legislation addressed the problem by requiring people to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty (or tax if your prefer). When Congress tackled health care they ultimately made that model a key part of the Affordable Health Care Act. However, Congress being Congress, and lobbyists being lobbyists, as the bill made its way through the committees and two houses it grew and shrank, twisted and turned, and became just as complex as the problem it was trying to solve, if not more so.
The result: a piece of legislation too long for the average person to even begin to read, let alone understand, too easy for opponents to criticize in simplistic ways, and too complex for supporters to defend in simple, understandable terms. Consequently, public debate has been just another shouting match, playing to the lowest common denominator while ignoring the seriousness of the basic problems in the current health care system.
The Affordable Health Care Act is not perfect, not is it the monster many have claimed it to be. It is not socialized medicine as practiced in many other countries nor is it the end of quality health care for those who can afford it. That is why I found the Empire cartoon to be irresponsible. It does nothing to contribute to the public debate about one of most important public issues of the day, but, rather, it feeds into the worst of the demagoguery that serves no public good. I had hoped that Juneau’s only daily newspaper would take a major role in providing readable and accurate information about the health care debate. It did so the other day with a couple of outside opinion pieces and I was looking for more of the same.
Mr. Editor, I trust that you know that the Affordable Health Care Act’s penalty (tax) for failing to obtain insurance or to provide an insurance plan for your employees will affect only a very small number of individuals or businesses. And even those affected will rarely pay a substantial amount. But you also must know that in order to hold down costs for all there must be a way to spread to cost burden and eliminate the number of uninsured in the system who are driving costs up. If you know a better way, please let us all know. In the meantime, how about toning down the dialogue with some responsible debating rather than slogan slinging.