Some Things You Might Not Know about “Obamacare”

As some of you know, I am against national health insurance and believe that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should be repealed. However, at the risk of seeming like a cheerleader for President Obama, I must say that I feel there are some important facts that are sometimes forgotten when discussing the act.

1. It really shouldn’t be called “Obamacare.”

Calling our recent health care law “Obamacare” is misleading, since it implies that Barack Obama was the first president to favor national health insurance. This is blatantly not the case. The first president to strongly favor it was Harry Truman. With the country on the heels of its largest economic boom ever, Truman called for the government to provide health insurance to all Americans who desired it just seven months into his presidency. According to the Truman Library, if “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry had gotten his way, “participants would pay monthly fees into the plan, which would cover the cost of any and all medical expenses that arose in a time of need. The government would pay for the cost of services rendered by any doctor who chose to join the program. In addition, the insurance plan would give a cash balance to the policy holder to replace wages lost due to illness or injury.” Perhaps the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should be called, “Truman Care.” Why is this not more widely known? One possible reason is that Harry Truman’s hawkish foreign policy has made him popular with many conservatives. Some defenders of George W. Bush have compared him to Truman, arguing that Dubya will be remembered more positively by future generations, similar to how Truman is viewed more positively now than he was when he left office. Generally speaking, when a deceased president becomes popular with a certain political group, that group will try to downplay any of that president’s views that do not fit with their own. The liberal Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for example, wrote an entire book called “the Age of Jackson,” without mentioning the Trail of Tears at all. These days, many Tea Party Republicans would probably prefer not to talk about Abraham Lincoln instituting the income tax, and many liberal Democrats would probably prefer not to talk about FDR’s anti-black, anti-Japanese racism. So it is little surprise that many hawkish conservatives would prefer to forget that Harry Truman favored national health insurance.

2. Ronald Reagan played a major role in moving the country towards national health insurance.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. This piece of legislation required most hospitals to provide emergency care to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. I agree with this policy. Nobody should be denied access to health care because of poverty. The problem was that EMTALA was an unfunded mandate, failing to furnish hospitals with the necessary federal funds to provide care to anyone who showed up at their doors. So in order to be able to provide health care to the uninsured, many hospitals began to increase the costs of medical care on insurance companies. In turn, these insurance companies often began raising premiums on people who buy health insurance. There are two basic things to take away from this information. Firstly, it is important to distinguish between national health insurance, which is only just now becoming U.S. policy, and national health care, which we have had in the U.S. since 1986. Because while Obama was the president who signed legislation enacting national health insurance, it was a conservative Republican president who signed legislation basically enacting national health care. Secondly, by signing an unfunded mandate, Reagan and the Congress members who voted for EMTALA contributed to driving up insurance premiums, thereby increasing calls for the government to step in and give everyone insurance.

3. One of the most controversial portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was supported by both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

One of the most controversial portions of the 2010 health care reform bill is that all Americans are required to have health insurance, whether they want it or not. What is less widely known is the support that prominent Republicans have shown for forcing people to buy health insurance. One of the largely ignored provisions of “RomneyCare,” the policy enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, is that everyone in the state must buy insurance or pay a fine. When I first visited Massachusetts, I saw signs warning passersby of the penalties they would receive if they refused to participate in the system. Romney never expressed regret for helping to implement this policy. While Newt Gingrich, one of the other frontrunners in the 2012 Republican primaries, has since retreated from this position, he stated in May 2011 that, “I’ve said consistently that we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance, or you post a bond, or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.”

4. Before becoming president, Barack Obama informed voters that, if elected, he would push for national health insurance early in his administration.

Many Americans were angry that President Obama quickly began spending a great deal of time and energy trying to enact national health insurance, rather than focusing more on the recession. However, this should not have been a surprise. On January 24, 2007, Obama delivered a speech in which he stated that, “I am absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country.” In his acceptance speech at 2008 Democratic National Convention, Obama re-iterated, “Now — now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American.” There was no reason to believe that if elected president, Barack Obama would not quickly try and tackle the issue of national health insurance. Whether he made the right decision or not, Obama was honest about his intentions.

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