Thursday, July 5, 2012

184. Know facts before opposing the plan

Many have seen the Jessica Simpson commercial for a high definition television company where she is talking about the new 1080i. In the commercial she famously says, "I don't know what it is, but I want it."

I thought about her funny line and how it might apply to the healthcare reform law. It seems that many people are saying, "I don't know what is in it, but I hate it."

The law is confusing, but misinformation is rampant. People hate it, all of it-and it is unconstitutional? Do people even hate the part that prohibits the denial of coverage because of preexisting conditions? Which part is unconstitutional? All of it, really? And now it is a tax and people hate it even more. Others hate it simply because it is associated with President Obama and they hate everything he does (even if Romney did nearly the same thing in Massachusetts). They want it repealed--and the vicious debate will continue.

But what do people really know about the law?

A Kaiser Family Foundation quiz highlighted some of the public misinformation about the healthcare reform law--to the extent that less than one percent of the public got all ten basic questions about the law correct. Worse, about one-third failed to answer even half the questions correctly.

More than half the respondents still believe that the healthcare reform law includes Sarah Palin's infamous invention commonly referred to as "death panels," in which a government panel would make end-of-life decision for people on Medicare. The misconception was named PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" in 2009. Only 45 percent answered correctly that death panels do not exist in the healthcare reform law.

The question however that received the lowest percentage of correct answers was whether the healthcare reform law requires all businesses, even the smallest businesses, to provide health insurance for its employees. Only 25 percent of the respondents answered correctly that this is not true (though 65 percent did correctly note that the healthcare reform law will provide tax credits to small businesses that do offer insurance to their employees).

A close second was a question related to the creation of a government run insurance plan to be offered along with private plans. While there was talk of a public option, only 27 percent answered correctly that the law does not create a new government-run plan. This misconception might be related to PolitiFact's 2010 lie of the year, which was the conservative talking point of a "government takeover of healthcare."

The newest healthcare misconception will undoubtedly stem from the overall favorable Supreme Court decision on the healthcare law, but a ruling that calls the individual mandate a "tax." Despite the fact that this penalty will affect only a small few, it is another reason to dislike this law.

Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote,

"Obama's supposedly sweeping tax - his penalty for noncompliance - will be levied on a grand total of 1.2 percent of the American people. So says the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in its projections for 2016. This means that 98.8 percent will not pay a cent, because virtually all Americans (a) will already have health coverage, (b) will have obtained coverage for the first time, thanks to federal subsidies and tax credits, or (c) will be exempt from the penalty, because of economic hardship or religious beliefs. The penalized 1.2 percent will be those Americans who can well afford coverage but simply refuse to buy it."

And really, isn't this what people have been asking for? Aren't people tired of paying for the uncompensated care of others?

In its relativity, the opportunity to insure more Americans and decrease the cost of healthcare is a small price to pay. According to The Office of Tax Analysis, even if you included every tax in this bill--such as taxes on medical supplies, tanning salons--it still falls way short of the 1982 tax hike initiated by Ronald Regan.

I've never liked the entirety of this law; I think the healthcare system is broken beyond repair. I have always favored national healthcare and removing profit from the system-particularly those sought by insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I think we need a nutritional revolution that focuses on prevention, which would save the healthcare system billions of dollars in chronic care. However, this law makes a bad system a little better. Many people were dying because they did not have access to medical care and many others were going bankrupt because of the inability to pay medical bills.

I heard a group of small business owners make the valid argument that health insurance was never meant to pay for every checkup or pair of glasses. Like car insurance, it was to pay for major expenses, not every oil change. I agree, but the problem is that we are way past that-people simply do not make enough money to even pay routine healthcare expenses out of pocket. It is too expensive. People would wait until the illness becomes severe enough, or sufficiently chronic, to warrant insurance coverage. Unfortunately, the best way to handle the cost burden of healthcare is to share that cost through an insurance program--or national healthcare system.

I do not love the healthcare reform law, but I certainly do not hate it. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but we all should at least understand the basis of that opinion. Sure, it is cute when Jessica Simpson acts uninformed about the latest television technology--but there is no humor when it is about the healthcare needs of millions of Americans.