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October 19, 2013

A shameful battle over health care

By Justin Vernold
The Daily Star

---- — As one of those hearty, young revenue streams that health insurance executives like to refer to as “young invincibles,” there isn’t a lot for me to get excited about in the Affordable Care Act.

Of course, I’m not thrilled to admit that. One of my foremost concerns as a voter has always been improving the absurd system the United States uses to deliver healthcare.

The numbers have been staggering. The U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, spent a whopping 17.4 percent of its gross domestic product on health care in 2009, while no other country spent more than 12 percent — even those that provided universal coverage for all citizens.

A cost comparison of specific products and services shows how badly we’ve been ripped off. A caesarian section, according to the OECD, was 30 percent more expensive in the U.S. than in France. A hip replacement was 45 percent more expensive, and the 50 most-popular pharmaceutical drugs were 60 percent more expensive in the U.S. than in Europe.

Even more disturbing is the way these numbers are trending. U.S. health care spending increased 72 percent from 2000 to 2009 alone, and by 2020, health care will account for nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

I know President Barack Obama made it a priority to provide insurance for those roughly 40 million Americans who lacked it before he took office. But in settling for quantity rather than quality, Obama blew an opportunity to establish a health system worth being proud of.

With the new health care law, the corporate insurance giants who’ve been ripping us off for decades have been given a guaranteed new revenue stream — and I have no choice but to participate. Every year these crooks demand a larger slice of the national pie; according to the Wall Street Journal, health care CEOs have the highest median pay of any industry at $10 million a year. Oil and gas company CEOs, for comparison’s sake, had a median pay of $8.6 million.

When the law passed in 2010, I figured I’d be one of the last people on earth to defend it. As a member of The Daily Star’s editorial board, I’ve played the role of Socratic gadfly in questioning the law during meetings. And while we waited this summer for the Supreme Court to rule on the law’s individual mandate, I wondered if perhaps a rebuke from the judicial branch is what Obama deserved for not threatening to veto such a flawed bill.

But the law was upheld, and no rational person can defend the reaction by tea party Republicans in the House, who control just the lower chamber of one branch of the federal government, yet feel entitled to overrule the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court in killing that bête noire they call “Obamacare.”

And let’s get that much straight; the tea party’s quixotic quest to upend the law is the sole reason for the recent government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, admitted Oct. 6 on ABC’s “This Week” that he made an offer to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to pass a “clean” spending bill, which wouldn’t have defunded the health law, back in June.

“But I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand,” Boehner said. “And we took a stand.”

That they did. A dumb stand, but a stand it was. Polls have indicated that the GOP is bearing most of the blame for the shutdown, and despite sizable public opposition to the Affordable Care Act, using the threat of a shutdown to quash the law has proven deeply unpopular. The House GOP turned peoples’ livelihoods into a game — one that Obama was destined to win.

So despite my misgivings about the new law, as someone unsatisfied with the health care status quo I’m apparently some sort of “moocher” or “taker” in the House GOP’s eyes. That’s nonsense, of course; I work full time for an employer who offers health insurance. But that’s the problem with the tea party’s us-vs.-them mentality; anything other than a fanatical, quasi-religious devotion to free-market theories means you’re a socialist leech. While the country cries out for rational, pragmatic solutions, the tea party would rather indulge in ideological fantasies.

That is what’s most shameful about this made-up crisis. The GOP’s short-lived “Repeal and Replace” platform unraveled once it became clear that actually solving the problem was never a priority. This entire saga was just a poorly disguised effort to jam a wrench into the gears of something for which Obama might be able to take credit.

JUSTIN VERNOLD is a copy editor at The Daily Star. Contact him at