George Will, that persistently pedantic pundit of politics, now chooses in today’s Joplin Globe (3/14/11) to peruse the constitutionality of mandatory health insurance, i.e., the Affordable healthCare Act, a.k.a., ObamaCare. I enjoy watching George on television, but his writing, not so much. He always drives me to the dictionary. But anyway, his subject is an important one that affects all Americans and he is a smart guy, so I am inspired to try to simplify his words.
What George is pondering has to do with whether the government has the right to force Americans to pay for health insurance, whether they want to or not. The Obama administration and Democrats believe they do because of the government’s right to regulate interstate commerce, even though what is being regulated is the act of choosing NOT to purchase something, i.e., health care premiums under the ACA. George, bless his conservative heart, calls such reasoning “Orwellian”, so I guess we all know how he feels about it. However, in my opinion we crossed the line of government’s right to dabble in our private affairs a long, long time ago, and now we are simply arguing over how much to move that line.
I was prompted to reply about a similar topic to a commenter on another blog-post this morning. “Jane Reaction” was waxing possessive about the word “entitlement” as applied to her Social Security benefits and opining that nobody should think that her benefits were some kind of gift for which she should be grateful. After all, she had paid into the system with money she had earned herself and she had every right to such benefits. Here was my reply to her:
Reaction, I hope you haven’t bought into the notion that all the money you paid into the SS system was being stored for you in a big bank vault somewhere. If so, it wasn’t. The truth is that there is very little relationship between what you paid in and what you get out, any notion of FAIRNESS notwithstanding.
The following paragraph from a Wikipedia page applies:
“In the book How Social Security Picks Your Pocket other factors affecting Social Security net benefits are identified: Generally, people who work for more than 35 years get a lower net benefit – all other factors being equal. People who do not live long after retirement age get a much lower net benefit. Finally, people who derive a high percentage of income from non-wage sources get high Social Security net benefits because they appear to be “poor,” when they are not. The progressive benefit formula for Social Security is blind to the income a worker may have from non-wage sources such as spousal support, dividends and interest, or rental income.” (More at this Link.)
You are certainly right that you deserve the benefits because you did pay into the system, and it is in the same sense that I use the term, “entitlement”. You are entitled because you paid, not that you had any choice in the matter. But the benefits do not come from the money you paid in. That money was spent as soon as you paid it. Where did it go? Part of it went to people who had already retired and the rest was spent by Congresses of Christmas past, gleefully if not gratefully.
Some people have compared Social Security to a giant Ponzi scheme, and that is valid except for the fact that, unlike a Ponzi scheme, Social Security has a reliable source of future funds, i.e., the pockets of current and future taxpayers. (Warning, some future tweaking may be required.) Anyway, the “benefits” you eventually get are all part of a progressive scheme to provide you, well, a government-guaranteed base of security that will keep you from starving and hypothermia if you have neglected to save for your own old age.
Then, it occurred to me that there is similarity between Social Security and the ACA. Both are mandatory programs forced on the public by government. If the Supremes deem it unconstitutional to force people to buy health insurance, might it not also be unconstitutional to confiscate their earnings for the Ponzi scheme that is Social Security? In this regard a federal law known as EMTALA is pertinent.
Whereas Social Security is compared to a Ponzi scheme, EMTALA might be compared to extortion. Why? Because EMTALA essentially says to medical providers, “You must provide medical treatment of standard quality to anyone asking for it, regardless of their ability to pay for it. If you don’t, we will disqualify you from receiving any reimbursement from MediCare or MediCaid, thus depriving you of over 50% of your current income.” Thus, to reason that “deciding not to pay for a necessity” is unjustifiable government regulation is no greater a leap, IMHO, than to reason that “extortion”, i.e., EMTALA, is also unjustifiable government regulation.
So, if the Supreme Court finds ACA to be unconstitutional, as George Will wants and expects, then how can EMTALA be exempt from the same reasoning? And if EMTALA goes, can Social Security be far behind?
See, this is what has happened. Medical science has been leveraged by public funding into providing more, and more-sophisticated, technologies and medicines, which are now considered necessities but which we as a society do not wish to afford. We want collective benefits but do not have the political will to collectively pay for same. It’s not that we can’t afford it, we choose not to through the political process. The medical community is caught in the middle, unwilling to give up its public income but also swamped with skyrocketing costs. The ACA improves the system by forcing additional payments but does not address the root cause, i.e., the lack of capitalistic controls, a.k.a., supply and demand.