New Castle News

March 19, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: Republicans deny role in mandated coverage

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In presidential primary campaigns, a common tactic is to cast your opponent as a sympathizer of the other party.

You’re seeing a lot of that in this year’s Republican presidential contest as Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul attempt to define each other in Democratic terms.

It’s all an effort by these four hopefuls to be identified as the one “true” conservative in the race, best expressing the values of the GOP. Of course, how one defines “true” is a matter of opinion.

So you see a lot of jousting on such topics as taxes, deficit spending, abortion, gun control, earmarks and the like. But one subject in particular continues to amaze me.

It has to do with mandates for insurance required under the new health care reform act. This topic has emerged as issue No. 1 in Republican attempts to unravel Democratic-backed changes to health care in the country.

Basically, we’re talking about a requirement that all Americans have health insurance, in much the same way that all motorists must have coverage in order to drive.

Legal attacks on health reform have focused on this mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this year that could lead to a rejection of this key provision of the health care law.

Foes say it’s unconstitutional, because Congress lacks the legal basis to require citizens to have insurance, while defenders counter that Washington’s power to regulate interstate commerce gives it ample authority to do so.

Recently, I received an email from the Santorum campaign attacking Romney and Gingrich over “Obamacare.” The email highlighted the ongoing argument that Santorum’s two foes had, in the past, supported insurance mandates, even though they stridently oppose them now.

While Romney and Gringrich seek to deny such charges, they essentially are true. But so what?

There’s an ugly little secret about health insurance mandates: They originally were a Republican idea before President Obama and other Democrats co-opted them.

What was once a perfectly respectable GOP proposal, built upon the notion of individual responsibility and accountability, somehow morphed into an example of big government run amok.

Think about it. In this country, virtually everyone has access to some degree of health care, whether they have private insurance, government-funded coverage or nothing at all.

People without any insurance theoretically can pay for their own care out of pocket. But what happens if they can’t afford it, or the bills exceed their checkbooks?

Well, someone else picks up the tab. Typically, that’s you and me. Our taxes, our insurance fees, our co-payments indirectly subsidize people who don’t have coverage.

Mandated insurance is a way of injecting a little fairness into the system. It may not be perfect — nothing is when it comes to something like health care coverage. But it’s far from a deep, dark Democratic plot.

And it’s far from socialism. That term better describes the current system Republicans say they want to reinstall.

When it comes to health care reform in this country, Democrats bungled it badly — mainly by failing to sell their plan to the American people. Had they done that, it would have generated the popular support necessary to force moderate Republicans to the negotiating table.

The result would have been a genuine bipartisan effort on health care, that would have established a process for moving forward on this complex issue.

Instead, we have an ongoing war.