Note to liberals: the ACA is not a compassionate policy

Note to liberals: the ACA is not a compassionate policy

nc_aca_website_131008Now that enrollment has started for the Affordable Care Act, certain inconvenient truths become clear. Contrary to what the president and his allies promised, not everyone can keep the health care plan they liked. This is important, so let’s go over it again. When the president said you could keep the health plan you liked, he was either ignorant of the scope of the ACA or deliberately obfuscating.

Before the president’s apologists suggest he presented a more nuanced statement about retaining your current policies, let me quote directly from his August 8, 2009 weekly radio address:

Under the reforms we seek, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.

Unless you’re ready to argue about the meaning of “keep,” I think his statement is pretty clear.

But now we’re hearing stories of individuals and employers losing their current plans and having to opt for others, often more expensive ones. This is because, under ACA, insurers are now required by law to cover a list of things they previously might not have included in lower-cost, higher-deductible plans.

That’s the insurance companies’ fault, argue liberals. Those “greedy” companies are responsible for this despicable outcome. There’s truth in that, although I’m not going to make a judgment call on whether there is greed involved. These insurance businesses are merely acting like…businesses. They look at profit and loss statements, and they try to keep the two in balance. And one doesn’t have to be an actuarial or accounting genius to recognize that when you ask a company to do more, it might charge more. Go figure.

But if we’re examining the meaning of any word, let’s look at “affordable,” which is in the ACA’s actual title.  I’ve argued before that I think it’s a mistake for any politician–Republican or Democrat–to insinuate, let alone promise, that he or she can make health care “affordable” for the average citizen.

While Republicans like to point to the lack of marketplace forces and the need for tort reform to reduce health care costs, they ignore the fact that even in days of yore, before the emergence of third-party payers bent the marketplace, health care was expensive, especially for chronic conditions such as polio.

Sure, I think more marketplace pressures and things like tort reform can reduce costs. But those initiatives are not going to make health care “affordable” in the sense that most people would define that word. Cancer care, for example, isn’t going to suddenly plunge from hundreds of thousands of dollars down to hundreds of bucks.

On the Democratic side of this ideological divide, it’s also disingenuous to argue that getting insurance out of the business entirely–and going to, say, a single-payer system–will keep costs down. Sure, the average Joe won’t have to pay hefty premiums and fees, but the money will come from taxes and reductions in benefits. You’ll pay in some way, either in an economy hobbled by taxes to pay for the program or in waiting lists for procedures or outright denials of treatments you might have had access to in a nongovernmental system.

If that happens, though, perhaps Republicans should steal a page from a liberal’s book and accuse Democrats of wanting to “make sure the working poor get kicked off of life-saving health care.”

I’m not serious, of course. I don’t think that kind of debate is healthy or productive. But it is akin to an argument used by Mother Jones writer Keven Drum against Republicans in his article  “The Shutdown in Ten Infuriating Sentences.” Here’s number ten:

This whole dispute is about the Republican Party fighting to make sure the working poor don’t have access to affordable health care.

I don’t know about you, fellow conservatives, but I wake up every day hoping to ensure some poor workingman doesn’t have access to affordable health care. It’s a life goal.

During the debate over passage of the ACA, we were treated to this kind of reasoning often. Stories appeared on social media and elsewhere about this cancer patient or that ailing workingwoman who, because of the lack of a good insurance policy, worsened and even died. The implication was clear: if you don’t support the Democrats’ push toward the ACA, you are pushing these poor souls toward oblivion.

Now we know, however, that it’s actually the ACA that is pushing people…off the “health plans they like.”

So, can we please drop the “holier than thou” attitude, my liberal friends? Will you join with me in accepting what I hope is a simple and obvious truth as we try to work out of the current morass of ACA malfunctions and design flaws?

Everyone involved in this debate wants to do the right thing. They want to fix a system that’s out of whack. They want to find a way to help working people afford health coverage even if they lose the job it was first linked to. I’ve read those stories of the uninsured. You can’t look away and pretend they don’t exist.

As we move forward with whatever fixes or repeals or changes to ACA that come forward in the coming months, can we all agree on one thing? Nobody–except the most cold-blooded–wants to keep anyone from accessing affordable health care.

Stop cloaking yourself in compassion, liberals, when you’re now seeing the fruits of your labor: hundreds of thousands of people who previously enjoyed adequate and affordable health care coverage are losing access to it. This might not have been your intent. But it’s the reality. It doesn’t make you less compassionate. It just makes you…wrong.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.


Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist whose works include humorous women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and historical fiction. Her political writings have appeared at Hot Air, the Weekly Standard, Insight, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor.

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