Posted by: Jeff | December 21, 2009

Helping People Is Good

Here’s Joe Klein’s reaction last week to the news that Democracy for America, the group that grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, was attacking the individual mandate in the health care bill. The first paragraph contains one of the better and more succinct defenses of the mandate that I’ve come across, and the second paragraph is an excellent response to those members of the left now inclined to declare the Senate’s bill unworthy of support.

Universal health care is predicated on two mandates: The insurers have to provide it to everyone regardless of a pre-existing conditions. The public — especially healthy members of the public — have to buy into the system; those who can’t afford to pay for it will be subsidized by the government. We can argue about the details, about whether the subsidies are sufficient, about which treatments the insurers will be required to cover, but without these twin mandates there can be no deal. Indeed, I’d argue that there is a civic and moral responsibility involved on both sides here. The moral responsibility of the insurers is obvious. The moral responsibility of individuals to buy in seems obvious as well: If you’re 25 and healthy, and intentionally uninsured, you’re asking the rest of us to pay your way when you have an accident and turn up in a hospital emergency room. Furthermore, if you’re 25 and healthy, you won’t always be. Someday you’ll be 80 and frail — and you’ll be looking to younger, healthier people to expand the pool and keep premium costs relatively low.

There are those who say that Democrats shouldn’t favor any system that continues to include private insurers. Good luck with that. I’ve been covering these issues for 40 years and I’ve come to this conclusion: anything that actually helps people is good, whether or not it fits into an ideological pattern. Covering 30 million more people is good. Preventing private insurers the ability to deny coverage to countless others is also good. Those who stand against these essential principles because of an ideological conceit — whether it be Joe Lieberman’s opposition to a public option, Ben Nelson’s opposition to abortion funding or Democracy for America’s opposition to an individual mandate — are proving a point that conservatives have long made: that Democrats are too feckless to govern.

For the sake of all those lives that will be eased if this legislation passes, I hope that’s not the case. In the meantime, the Deaniacs should be ashamed of themselves.


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