Progressive Americans have this much going for them: they can, without any reservations, second thoughts (or perhaps even first thoughts), enthusiastically and wholeheartedly support Obamacare’s individual mandate. For them, the individual mandate is an unalloyed good. Not only does it enable Obamacare to proceed, thus giving the government unprecedented control over every aspect of American healthcare, but it also establishes the authority of the government to control the economic activity of individuals. This new authority will come in very handy as our leaders continue working toward redistributive justice. So if you’re a Progressive, what’s not to like about the individual mandate?
Conservative Americans do not have it so easy. In principle, of course, the very idea of an individual mandate is constitutional heresy to a conservative, since it violates not only the letter but the very spirit of the Constitution. This is why, over the past three years, opposing the individual mandate has become for conservatives a more fundamental litmus test than opposing abortion. Accordingly, it is conservatives who have launched the constitutional challenge to the individual mandate, and who have now succeeded in bringing it before the Supreme Court, and who have based their chief strategy for bringing down Obamacare on the idea that the Supremes will agree with them about it.
DrRich, like most conservatives, is aghast at the idea that the Court might actually find the individual mandate to be compatible with the Constitution. Such an expansion of the power of the Central Authority over the lives of individuals will essentially gut the main idea behind our founding, and send us even more rapidly down the path toward tyranny.
But as he contemplates how he might feel on the day the Supreme Court finally strikes down the individual mandate, DrRich can’t help conjuring up the last scene from The Graduate. In that scene, Dustin Hoffman, who has just burst into the church and fought through a horde of wedding guests to grab his girl from the altar, and, with her in tow, has fought his way past the stunned groom and back through the angry crowd, and having at last jumped with her onto a city bus, is now sitting breathlessly, his hard-won love at his side, as the bus pulls away leaving their pursuers behind. And as that last scene fades, his look of elation at finally winning his heart’s desire gradually slackens, and transforms into a look of utter panic, a look that silently beseeches, “Now what?” Or, perhaps, “What have I done?”
DrRich thinks that’s what will happen to Republicans on the day the individual mandate is declared unconstitutional.
There is a reason, dear reader, that Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and the Heritage Foundation, all of whom claim to be conservatives, at one time or another supported something very much like Obama’s individual mandate. That reason is: it is very difficult to conceive of a workable, market-based solution to our healthcare mess without one.
Any scheme for reforming healthcare that is based on private health insurance will fail if a substantial proportion of the population declines to purchase health insurance. Whether people have chosen to acquire health insurance or not, they will still get sick. And when the uninsured get sick there are only two choices.
The first choice is to refuse them care. Libertarians have no problem with this. They believe that if you want some healthcare, you should pay for it yourself. If you choose not to buy health insurance, or otherwise fail to make arrangements to pay for healthcare should it turn out that you need some (as well you might, if you engage in all the activities and abuse all the substances that libertarians say is your right), well, that’s too bad for you. Let your painful and untimely demise serve as an object lesson to everyone else, so that perhaps they will make better personal choices. Most non-libertarians, however, find this option abhorrent.
The second choice is to take care of the uninsured anyway. If you do that, not only do you drive up the cost of health insurance for people who have chosen to buy it, but you also create a huge incentive for people to not buy it in the first place.
This is why Republicans or conservatives who have thought deeply about healthcare reform (Gingrich, the Heritage Foundation), or who have actually instituted healthcare reform (Romney), will often settle upon a solution that incorporates something very much like President Obama’s individual mandate. Unless everyone is strongly “incented” to buy health insurance, a market-based healthcare system will collapse.
More to the point, Republicans ought to recognize that, while it seems to have wound up that way, the individual mandate in Obamacare did not start out as a sneaky way to undermine the Constitution. It was, in fact, a necessary concession to the more conservative of the Democratic members of Congress. President Obama and his minions (or handlers, depending on which talk show hosts you listen to) are on record as saying that their real goal is a single-payer, government-controlled healthcare system. And there is no reason in a single-payer, government-controlled healthcare system to invoke anything like an individual mandate to purchase insurance. The President would have been quite happy without any individual mandate, if he could have gotten his way in the first place.
The individual mandate was inserted into Obamacare purely as a necessary component of healthcare reforms that are ostensibly based on private health insurance, which is the only kind of reform the President could possibly get through even a Democratic Congress in 2010.
If the Supreme Court declares the individual mandate to be constitutional (which will violate everything DrRich holds dear about America), then it’s a huge win for Obamacare.
But if they declare it unconstitutional, that will trigger the Republican’s real problems.
Republicans, Democrats and federal judges all seem to agree that without the individual mandate, Obamacare is infeasible. The moment the mandate is declared unconstitutional, Obamacare disappears.
And this will create a “Graduate” moment. There the Republicans will be, sitting on the bus with the healthcare system they have just saved from the handsome-but-arrogant groom who had Big Plans for it, and heading to – where? They can’t just go back to the old healthcare system; we’re past that. The health insurance industry has made it plain that their business model is broken, which is why they acceded to and even campaigned for Obamacare (a system under which they are to become federally-regulated public utilities) in the first place. Should Republicans institute their own market-based healthcare reforms? Good idea! But what do they do about the people who choose not to buy private insurance, now that they have had mandates to purchase declared unconstitutional? And even if they have an answer to that question (which they do not), do they have a plan ready to go, one that can be implemented quickly, before the healthcare system implodes? (Remember, Republicans, you will be dealing with a health insurance industry that has run out its string, and that will be at least angry if not panicked at the demise of its public-utility end-game.)
As it happens, DrRich himself has proposed a fix for the healthcare system that addresses all these problems – a system that is based on individual choice and incorporates private insurance, and at the same time covers everyone without any individual mandate, and controls healthcare costs to boot. The details are entirely irrelevant at the moment, and DrRich will not bore his readers with them now. (If you’re interested you can buy a copy of his book in Kindle format for five bucks, or if that’s too steep you can read an outline of his plan here for free.) The point is that workable solutions to our healthcare problems are indeed imaginable. The likes of DrRich has imagined such a thing, and so have others. But Republican candidates for President, and Republican congressional leaders, are not creating these solutions. Instead, they are steering us into a blind alley.
Here is what DrRich fears. When the individual mandate is declared unconstitutional next June, the Republican celebration will last all of 7.5 minutes. The insurance industry will make it very clear very quickly that they simply will no longer be able to function, and to have any hope of survival they will have to resume cherrypicking healthy patients, massively increasing premiums, denying recommended care, and dropping subscribers when they get sick. Even with these drastic steps, they will say, there’s no guarantee that health insurance will still be available for most Americans in a year or two. And at the time these astounding revelations are made, the Republicans won’t even be finished choosing a nominee, let alone be able to articulate a coherent plan for replacing Obamacare. By Independence Day panic will reign across the land.
The President will then make a speech. He will say, “We tried, America. In the spirit of bipartisanship we tried to give Republicans a system of market-based healthcare reforms, just like they say they wanted. But that kind of system requires an individual mandate, and our misguided friends on the right have now shot the individual mandate through the head. And when the American people ask those same Republicans who brought this disaster upon us, “Now what?” the American people get no answer. The Republicans are quite good at destroying healthcare solutions, but are hopeless when it comes to creating them. And you can hear for yourselves what the health insurers are now threatening to do to all of us when we get sick. It will be just like it was before, but much, much worse.
“We tried, America. We tried to create a market-based healthcare system that would be fair to all. But the Republicans, caring for nothing but their own selfish political fortunes, have blocked our efforts, and have left us all for dead.
“Fortunately, in a few short months you will be able to exercise your God-given right as Americans to choose. If you want to, you can vote into office the Republicans, the people who have traded your healthcare security and that of your family in favor of the chaos we are all witnessing today. Or you can re-elect me, and you can give me a Congress I can work with, and let us try to salvage something good from the ruins of the glorious reforms we fought so hard for the last time. Let us try to give you the best healthcare system that is still possible, given the new constraints the Republicans have now made for us. While you and I might not have started out wanting a healthcare system run entirely by the government, today our choice is either that, or the chaos, pain, suffering, disability and death that, thanks to the good offices of the Republicans and their friends in the health insurance industry, are now staring us in the face. But this is not the first time Americans have stared evil in the face. We have done it before, and we have always prevailed.
“We tried, America. We tried – but the Republicans denied, and babies died.
“My fellow Americans, in November you will have the opportunity to say no to the forces of evil, and to set this travesty right. I know the heart of Americans, and I know that you will do the right thing, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of your children, and your grandchildren, and generations of Americans yet unborn.*”
And when President Obama is finished laying out his argument, the Republican nominee, whoever he or she turns out to be, won’t know whether to cry, “Oops!” or “Nein, nein, nein!”
*DrRich is a conservative but also a capitalist, and so his speechwriting services are available to the highest bidder. Mr. Obama, mutual “friends” in the DOJ have proven adept at tracking DrRich down when necessary, and will know how to contact him.