The House of Representatives voted today, largely along party lines, to repeal the healthcare law passed last year. It was a symbolic gesture, as the Democratic-controlled Senate will not take up the bill, nor would President Obama sign it. The vote today was the culmination of two years of rhetoric and campaign promises, and with any luck, that is as far as things will go. But the GOP does have a strategy beyond meaningless parliamentary showboating. They do genuinely want this bill to disappear, and while repeal is out of the question with the current alignment in Washington, starving the bill to death by denying it funds is not.
Why such hatred for legislation that is designed to, and is helping to provide, insurance coverage for more Americans? It seems cruel to wish ill on a law that is already showing returns in increasing the number of Americans with access to healthcare. As with all political debates, the cause is differing standards of morality. Republicans, in sync with the ideals of conservatism, have no qualms with the idea that all Americans should have health insurance. They just think that government should have little to no role in making it easier to get insurance, or, god forbid, actually provide coverage through taxation. There is no mystery to their position. It is the same dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest mentality that governs all the bedrock positions of conservative ideology, from government regulation of industry to unemployment insurance. The thought of spreading the burden of healthcare among all the people of the nation is anathema to them, nothing more than stealing from the rich (in this case, the healthy), to help the sick. Simply put, the extraordinary amount of empathy that any healthcare law shows towards the citizens of this country has no place in their world. Empathy is misplaced. Struggle is strength. Those that can’t survive the struggle were not meant to, and helping them is rewarding their weakness, while taking money from the best people to help pay for it all is punishing them for their success.
That’s right, the best people. Dan Quayle once said so succinctly in his acceptance of the GOP vice-presidential nomination at the 1992 convention. In arguing against progressive taxation, he said, “Why should the best people be punished?” A liberal sees no correlation between financial well-being and the actual value of a person as a person, while conservatives do. That is the root of the conflict between the two ideologies. Conservatives see spreading the burden of healthcare across the citizenry as an unconscionable assault of the rights of individuals to determine their own path without interference, while condoning the immoral behavior which led to a person being unable to pay for their own healthcare. Liberals are operating out of empathy, in recognition that at some point in a person’s life, indeed, as time progresses and people age, at many times during a year, healthcare will be needed.
Healthcare is not a luxury. Healthcare, good healthcare, is a necessity. Working to provide it to as many people as possible in the country can only result in the overall health of the country increasing. As health continues to improve, the country benefits as families are able to stay intact longer. Workers are able to stay productive later in life. But most importantly, no one has to die because they were light in the wallet. Empathy dictates that such a situation is morally indefensible. To a liberal, healthcare has become a right, not a privilege. For the simple reason that we can make it happen, we have a moral responsibility to do so.
But in the end, the struggle to hold onto life is a losing battle. Everyone dies. Most die slowly, lingering for years before their eyes close, their heart beats for the final time, and they draw their last breath. With luck, it happens in peace and without pain, but not all are that lucky. In the meantime, the longer the show goes on, the more the tab increases, until the fruits of a lifetime of labor go to doctors and hospitals, and not towards the wishes of the deceased.
If the GOP is right about one thing, it is that the new healthcare law does nothing to decrease the cost of healthcare, especially end of life care, when all the expensive stops are pulled out on behalf of the patient. But this wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, the healthcare bill is far weaker than first envisioned, and its cost-cutting muscle was gutted by the GOP intransigence that led to the compromised bill that crossed Obama’s desk. But such is politics. No good deed goes unpunished.