Chief Justice John Roberts, the genial archconservative who flubbed President Obama’s Oath of Office and declared that corporations are “people,” surprised nearly everyone yesterday by tipping the scales in favor of Obamacare. His deciding vote saved the Affordable Care Act from a premature burial by the Supreme Court. In the long run, his decision could save millions of Americans from the same fate.
Roberts deserves our respect and sympathy for voting like a human being instead of a partisan. It takes a brave and almost foolhardy conservative to break ranks with the faithful and face the inevitable wrath of the Tea Party. Already the hardcore GOP politicians, pundits and henchpersons have lit their torches and roused the village mob; eminent voices on the right have declared him a traitor and a coward. Some even suggested that his epilepsy medication has impaired his judgment.
At least Roberts can sleep with an undisturbed conscience, even as the bellowing of the mob drifts through his bedroom window. But what kind of creature has he saved from destruction? Does anyone really understand the strange, ungainly beast known as Obamacare?
To any objective observer (me included), the Affordable Care Act would appear to be a raging bundle of contradictions, a Frankenstein monster cobbled together from a disjointed assortment of body parts. Let me explain…
Obamacare takes the drastic step of forcing Americans to be insured or pay a penalty. Note that it doesn’t force us to buy insurance; the vast majority of Americans will continue to be insured by their employers. But the act would compel everyone to participate — even Rush Limbaugh, who boasts that he pays his own medical expenses without the aid of insurance (easy enough when your annual income is north of $30 million a year).
Conservatives regard this individual mandate as a violation of personal freedom. But so is the draft. So, for that matter, is the government ban on the slave trade. Anyone who agrees to participate in a society governed by laws naturally forfeits some degree of liberty.
Obamacare forces us to patronize private insurance companies. Conservatives who defame Obama as a socialist should take a closer look at this provision: the president is mandating that we acquire our insurance from the private sector. No state-run single-payer system… no government boards determining who qualifies for medical treatment and who doesn’t… no death panels telling Grandma she’s lived long enough.
No, the Affordable Care Act steers us directly into the open arms of corporate America, automatically ensuring that insurers do a brisk business collecting premiums from individuals and businesses alike. For a free-market capitalist, what’s not to like? Maybe this…
Obamacare forces insurers to cover everyone. That includes the obese, the drug-addled, the cancer-riddled, the unfit and the atherosclerotic. People with pre-existing conditions can no longer be turned away as bad risks. Obamacare essentially orders the insurance companies to embrace those risks, which strikes even an anti-corporatist curmudgeon like me as a little coercive.
At the same time, it always struck me as a wanton injustice that the people who need health insurance most desperately can’t get it… that they have to live in fear of catastrophic illnesses (and their subsequent treatments) that nobody of ordinary means can afford… that they face financial ruin if their health starts to implode (and, in fact, two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are currently caused by medical issues).
Should health insurance even be in the hands of the private sector? Should it be controlled by companies that need to make a profit, when the people most inclined to use it would wreck their beautiful bottom line? The current system makes almost no sense, but it’s so deeply entrenched — and the opposition to government-administered healthcare is so obstinate in the U.S. — that any radical realignment would probably spark a Tea Party insurrection or worse.
Obamacare, that much-maligned creature of unappealing and seemingly mismatched parts, somehow manages to tread this landscape with surprising delicacy. It preserves the private-sector control of health insurance while it strings a broad safety net across the chasm to save lives and personal finances. Yes, it’s strange and awkward and will take some getting used to, but this Frankenstein monster clearly has a heart. And for now at least, thanks to the wisdom of Chief Justice Roberts, it’s alive.
Founder-editor of The New Moderate, a blog for the passionate centrist who would go to extremes to fight extremism. Disgruntled idealist… author of The Cynic’s Dictionary… inspired by H. L. Mencken… able to leap small buildings in several bounds. Lives with his son in a century-old converted stable in Philadelphia.