“Obamacare is taking away our freedoms!” I hear that constantly from people who make “Obamacare” sound like a swear word. And whenever I hear it I find myself asking, which of our sacred freedoms are being taken away?
Are parents losing the freedom to agonize over whether they should take a crying, feverish child to the doctor because paying the bill might mean falling behind on the rent? Are other parents losing the freedom to live the rest of their lives in crippling debt because their child has leukemia and will need years of costly medical treatment?
Or maybe the anti-Obamacare crowd is worried about insurance companies losing the freedom to deny coverage to people who have preexisting conditions and are most in need of health care -- or losing the freedom to yank away coverage from people who have been paying insurance premiums for years and suddenly discover they have cancer.
Maybe they’re worried Obamacare will take away women’s “freedom” to pay higher premiums than men because women get pregnant, which means they’re more likely to need a doctor’s care. And young adults under 26 will lose their “freedom” to be cut from their parents’ insurance at a time when they haven’t yet established themselves financially or found a job that covers health care.
And what about seniors who complain Obamacare is taking away their freedoms? Are they upset they’ll no longer have to pay full price for their prescription drugs when they fall into the Medicare donut hole?
If those are the kind of “freedoms” the anti-Obamacare crowd is trying to protect, they need to think long and hard about how they define “freedom.”
Personally, I like the idea that people will have the freedom to pursue the American Dream without worrying that their journey will be cut short by a downward spiral of debt and bankruptcy caused by an unavoidable, unpredictable illness or injury.
I like the idea that people will feel free to leave mind-numbing, no-future jobs to take better jobs without worrying about losing health coverage. And I love the thought that people will feel free to start new businesses that could change all our lives for the better and lead to hundreds of jobs for fellow Americans because they know they won’t be putting the safety of their families in jeopardy by leaving a job that provides health care.
I will admit, however, one aspect of the Affordable Care Act will mean a loss of “freedom” for a small minority of people who can afford to buy health insurance but decide not to. Those few people will have to pay a penalty -- you can call it a tax if you like, it amounts to the same thing. (It will be waived for people who can’t afford the insurance, by the way.) There’s a good reason for the penalty, or tax. It’s because of the way insurance works. To be able to keep premiums down and pay the legitimate claims of people who incur high health care costs, insurance companies need a pool of people who don’t make large claims. That’s as true for health insurance as it is for car insurance. So if insurance companies are going to be required to cover people with higher health risks, as they are in the new health care law, they need to insure lots of lower risk people as well.
Years from now, some of the anti-Obamacare people are sure to complain they had to buy “that damn insurance I didn’t need.” To them I say, be thankful you and your family have been blessed with good health. Insurance is the one thing we buy hoping we never have to use it. But if they find themselves or their loved ones in need of costly medical care, I hope they’ll be grateful they can afford it, thanks to Obama and the Affordable Care Act.