Tea Partiers Strike Out on Health Care

Almost as soon as the health care reform bill finally was passed in March, the Ohio Liberty Council — an organization comprised of various Tea Party-related groups — promised it would exploit the public outrage and mount a petition effort to have the fed

Jul 14, 2010 at 2:06 pm

So much for the “outrage.”

If you can remember back to late last year, the airwaves, newspapers and Internet were filled with debate about the proposed health care reform bill making its way through Congress. Much of the clamor came from opponents who were angry and afraid, whipped into a frenzy by constant lies about death panels and government-funded abortions.

Those lies were fed to a gullible public by people who had a vested interest in blocking any changes, particularly the Republican Party, which has opposed most health care reform efforts since the 1940s.

Almost as soon as a reform bill finally was passed in March, the Ohio Liberty Council — an organization comprised of various Tea Party-related groups — promised it would exploit the public outrage and mount a petition effort to have the federal law barred from taking effect in Ohio.

The group wanted to gather enough signatures to put a state constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot, which it said would be easily approved by its multitude of pissed-off voters. The Liberty Council disliked that the federal law requires people to buy health insurance and could impose fines on those who don’t, stating it violated personal freedoms.

To make the ballot, Tea Partiers had to submit 402,275 valid signatures of registered voters to the Ohio Secretary of State by June 30. Well, that’s not quite what happened.

After three months of work, the Liberty Council called off its petition effort to make this fall’s ballot just days before the deadline, conceding it couldn’t meet its goal. Instead, the group would focus on placing the issue on the November 2011 ballot, or a full 18 months after the federal law was passed.

The group said last week that it had gathered more than 150,000 signatures so far.

Although the Liberty Council blamed its sluggish progress on the use of volunteer signature-gatherers, it’s a clear sign that opposition to so-called “ObamaCare” was never as broad as Tea Partiers insisted. Rather, it was a case of the squeaky wheel getting all the media attention.

During much of last year’s debate, numerous polls showed most Americans favoring the reform effort and also supporting some type of public option, which sadly never made it into the bill due to a back-room deal cut by President Obama. It was only in the last weeks before passage, after a full year of mulling the issue, that support began wavering.

Who blamed them? Even the most die-hard political junkie had grown weary of the seemingly never-ending battle. But the Tea Partiers began believing their own hype. So much of the movement itself is artificial and manufactured, the result of “astro-turfing” by groups like Freedom Works, which have ties to Big Business and lobbyists like ex-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).

The Liberty Council’s proposed amendment is designed to “preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage,” the group claimed. Drafted by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative think tank, the amendment supposedly would protect Ohioans from “the financial burdens and individual mandates” contained in the federal law.

Tellingly, the group is quick to note that the amendment’s passage wouldn’t affect existing federal programs like including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and workers compensation programs.

The Liberty Council wouldn’t dare touch them because they’re all popular with voters. Most of them, however, were decried as “socialist” by Republicans before they were enacted and denounced as illegal by others.

Just like Medicaid and Social Security, many aspects of the federal health care law will no doubt prove popular once fully enacted and people get over the shock and uncertainty of transitioning into a new system.

The provisions include preventing insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or placing limits on their lifetime benefits, preventing insurers from canceling coverage when a customer gets sick and creating a special high-risk insurance pool for people with serious medical conditions or illnesses to make coverage more affordable.

The main kicker, of course, is the law will extend coverage to 32 million people who are currently uninsured; the importance of that cannot be overstated.

Groups like the 1851 Center speciously claim that it’s illegal to force people to buy health insurance and it will be too expensive for some people.

Replying to the first argument, the government also forces people to pay into Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security if they work, a mandate that was upheld as legal despite court challenges. If the 1851 Center truly believes the insurance mandate is illegal, then it should try to make the same argument against the other federal programs. It won’t, because most people now like those programs having been a part of them for a while.

The second argument also falls flat. People who don’t buy health insurance are part of the reason health care costs are so high for the rest of us. They often seek treatment at hospital emergency rooms when sick or injured that could be better provided at doctor’s offices or medical clinics. Some never pay the ER bill, which is then passed along to everyone else in the former of higher prices.

When the mandate begins in 2014, the federal government will provide subsidies to many people who can’t afford coverage. Estimates say about 19 million people (of the 32 million currently uninsured) will be eligible for the subsidies on a sliding scale.

Under the plan, no one would have to pay more than 10 percent of their income for good coverage.

If a person’s income is less than four times the federal poverty level, they’re probably eligible. That’s an income of $44,000 annually for an individual and $88,000 for a family of four, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The less a person makes, the less they will have to pay. Anyone who makes under 133 percent of the federal poverty level can enroll in the expanded Medicaid program.

With the wider pool of people buying coverage, rates should start falling for the rest of us. These reforms are needed because the current U.S. health care system is broken.

As if any more proof was needed, the U.S. system ranked last in a recent health care scorecard compiled by the Commonwealth Fund. Other nations included in the scorecard were Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

The nonprofit group ranked nations using data from physician and patient surveys compiled from 2007 to 2009. It found that Americans spend twice as much on health care as citizens of other developed nations but get lower quality and less efficiency, and leave the most people uninsured.

Americans spent $7,290 per capita on health care in 2007, or more than 17 percent of gross domestic product — a $593 jump in just two years.

With numbers like that, Tea Partiers are going to have a tough time trying to roll back reforms.

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