Liebrecht: Umm, the Affordable Care Act actually works

Congressman Morgan Griffith dedicated his Jan. 9 newsletter to excoriating Obamacare. He claims that you cannot always keep your doctor, premiums have gone up by double digits, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses have risen, and that many people are significantly underinsured.

Actually, I thought Griffith was describing the private health insurance plan that I had prior to the implementation of Obamacare. A quick search on healthcare.com revealed that in my area I could purchase a plan for $82 per month offering coverage similar to that provided by my old private insurance plan at $360 per month or better coverage at $164 per month.

There is some truth to Griffith’s statements. There are problems with Obamacare. Premiums have gone up significantly in some markets, and deductibles for the least comprehensive plans seem higher than most people can easily afford in the event of a serious illness. Still, the program does not seem to be the unqualified disaster. Griffith describes. Certainly, I would opt for better coverage at half the price of my pre-Obamacare plan.

It has been difficult to understand why Republicans have been so implacably opposed to Obamacare since it is based on proposals set forth by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Republican think tank, and on Mitt Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts. Most progressive Democrats would have preferred a single-payer system, perhaps the extension of Medicare to everybody. Yet, it seems a real stretch to describe Obamacare as a disaster despite its problems.

The most important evidence of the program’s success is that twenty million previously uninsured people now have insurance, and this has undoubtedly saved lives. When people lose health insurance, they often do not get timely medical care with deadly results. In 2009, the Harvard Gazette cited a study conducted at Harvard Medical School which found almost 45,000 deaths per year in this country associated with a lack of medical insurance. Other studies cite somewhat lower but still impressive numbers for deaths related to no medical insurance.

Common morality dictates that we must do what provides the most good for the most people, which means providing health insurance to the greatest number of people so that they can live productive, healthy lives. There are also practical components to doing so. When people die prematurely, they do not contribute to our society. They do not work, they do not start businesses, they do not volunteer, and they are not present to raise their children, who may have to go on public assistance after the loss of a breadwinner.

Given the positive aspects of providing the general public with adequate health insurance, why are Republicans like Griffith so doggedly opposed to a program they originated? There are two possible answers. One, they fundamentally do not believe everybody should have equal access to health insurance, and two, they want to reward their wealthy donors. The very richest people in the country will receive a nearly $200,000 tax cut from the repeal of Obamacare; the average person gets back maybe $180 or barely enough for two doctor’s office visits. Actually, Republican opposition may be rooted in a combination of both motives with some additional resentment that a Democratic president implemented their program.

So, Griffith is part of the Republican pack howling about the problems with Obamacare, exaggerating the plan’s failures while providing no viable fix or alternative. Instead of admitting the objective truth that the program has helped millions of Americans, he twists facts to further the goal of depriving us of access to health insurance and health care while feathering the nests of super-rich Republican donors.

If Republicans actually did come up with something better than Obamacare, we would all applaud, but they have not. Instead we have been treated to a cacophony of half-truths with the expectation that we will believe them as the Republican Congress rushes to repeal a program that really has saved lives. I was not initially an Obamacare fan, but there is no denying that the program is far better than the failed market system that we had before. I do not want to see the program repealed. I do not want to see it repealed and replaced. I want to see it reformed and strengthened. Most of all, I want to see an end to politicians twisting facts in support of an agenda that only serves their wealthy donors.

Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries.