After health care ruling, it’s still politics as usual

Guest Editorial
The words upholding most of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act were barely out of Chief Justice John Roberts’s mouth before the usual suspects weighed in with the usual stuff, turning what could have been a historic moment into business as usual.

Mitt Romney said “on my first day if elected president” he will act to repeal Obamacare.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the Supreme Court decision “sets the stakes for the November election.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee said the law would be permanent unless a host of Democratic incumbents are “replaced” in the fall.

Within an hour, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the House would vote on a repeal of the law July 11.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican efforts to push a repeal — which have been nonstop since it passed — are just beginning.

Unfortunately, not a single one talked about the estimated 30 million to 50 million people who will, starting in October 2013, be able to sign up for taxpayer subsidized health insurance either through private insurance plans or Medicaid.

Not a word about the fact that insurers will no longer be able to turn away people with a history or medical problems, or a pre-existing condition, or charge them more.

Not a word about struggling local hospitals which are essentially guaranteed millions more paying customers and will likely see their losses for uncompensated care essentially drop by half.

Not a word about family practice doctors, who will see a pay boost for treating Medicare patients (many have stopped taking new Medicare patients because they couldn’t afford them), and will likely become the new gatekeepers of what is expected to be a more efficient health care system.

And most hypocritical of all, not a word of recognition that the Affordable Care Act actually addressed many of the ills of our broken health insurance system and we now have an opportunity to make the law better and address its shortcomings.

In short, none of those politicians said a word about the people they were elected to serve or spoke about the greater good or doing what is right first and worrying about politics later.

Whichever side of the issue you’re on, the tragedy here isn’t that the Affordable Care Act has survived for now or that Republicans are obsessed with repealing it, no matter what. The tragedy is that in the years since it passed, there has been virtually no effort at the highest reaches of government to acknowledge that we have a major problem and it must be fixed.

During the worst of the Great Recession hardly a day went by, it seemed, without news of soaring health insurance rates or that a few thousand more people had lost their jobs and their insurance.

Now, the massive auto layoffs and the gutting of the nation’s manufacturing core are no longer front-page news, but the great majority of those who lost their jobs are still without work or have found jobs that don’t offer health insurance. They’re still there, and they’re still at risk.

They’re the people who put off going to the doctor because they can’t afford to go and end up in the emergency room. They’re the millions more who are one serious health issue away from bankruptcy or losing their homes.

That’s still the reality for up to 20 percent of the population, and something must be done.

This is a historic opportunity for our elected leaders to step up and address one of the nation’s most pressing problems. If creating jobs is our top priority, providing health care for everyone who needs it must be No. 2.

So what will it be, politics or the common good? Judging by reactions so far, we know the answer.