I got a bit of whiplash reading the opinion section on my Washington Post app over the weekend.
I saw this headline, “End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.” Beyond that, all I could see without clicking on the link was part of this opening sentence: “Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Courtdeals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017.”
And I thought, Oh boy, some liberal is engaging in standard partisan hyperbole, trying to make us think that those horrible Republicans think it’s OK that people would die if Obamacare were repealed. Sheesh.
And then, I clicked on the link, and the first thing I saw was that the author of the column, Michael R. Strain, “is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” And I thought, Wow, that’s counterintuitive, for someone from AEI to be castigating Republicans for wanting to end Obamacare. AEI must represent a broader spectrum of viewpoints than I had thought. I wonder if this guy gets ostracized by the OTHER “resident scholars,” or do they respect his take on things? If such a piece is coming from AEI, it must really be interesting…
And then, I started reading. And quickly realized there was no irony or hyperbole involved here. This guy was serious. He really was saying that people will die if Obamacare goes away, and that that’s OK. What’s left of Jonathan Swift must be rolling over about now.
Here is the operative passage:
During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.
Except, it’s not.
In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.
He goes on, of course, to explain that what he means is that we make decisions that result in people dying all the time. For instance, if we really didn’t want anyone to die in a traffic accident, speed limits would be set at 10 mph. But we make a tradeoff.
And of course, our healthcare payment system makes decisions not to pay for potentially life-saving care all the time. That was what was so ridiculous about the overheated rhetoric from the right about “death panels” — did Sarah Palin et al. not see that insurance companies, in their bids to hold down costs, have long acted as “death panels”?
But still, I was startled. One seldom sees the case for death made so openly…