Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Ever since its passage in Spring of 2010, the Affordable Care Act, dubbed "Obamacare," has been under a veritable onslaught from the right. Now, more than ever, Republican candidates seem to be embroiled in a pissing contest over who can best demonstrate their distaste for the bill to the American public. Never mind the fact that Rick Perry is harping on about how government mandates will kill everyone and their mother, or how Mitt Romney seems to change his mind (and views) like an indecisive shoe-shopper, let's do what many in the Republican field have failed to do--look at the facts.

Kaiser Family Foundation releases monthly data about the American public's views on healthcare reform, and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has put together what he thinks are the most interesting and most telling statistics in the data. I'm not going to go through the whole article, but I'll pull two of what I thought were the most interesting bits from it.
"Only 37% of the public feels favorably toward Obamacare, but 50% want to keep or expand it. It turns out that many of the unfavorable/don't know opinions aren't from people who dislike healthcare reform, they're from people who don't think Obamacare went far enough."
That quote right there ought to tell you a lot about the problems with polling just one variable of a public issue. In any case, I happen to be among those people who didn't think that Obamacare went far enough, but I suppose this Rube-Goldberg device of a health-care law is the best we can hope for in the U.S. right now. Anyways, here's the second blurb:
"Among those who don't like Obamacare, nearly half admit that their dislike has nothing much to do with the law itself.They're just mad at Obama and/or Washington DC."
This quote doesn't really surprise me, I mean, who wouldn't be pissed at DC right now? Even I was pissed at Obama for awhile, mainly because he was bending over backwards to appease the Republicans in a show of bipartisanship that was time and time again thrown in his face. But before I go off on a tangent about the folly of bipartisanship with a Republican party that's become as radicalized as it has, I should continue on about health care.

I'm convinced that a significant proportion of people who dislike the Affordable Care Act do so for reasons that don't actually exist. I say this because the big Republican win in 2010 was largely fueled by an obvious mischaracterization of the ACA. Remember that infamous picture of the "Keep Government Out of My Medicare" sign? Yeah. That. I mean, the ACA isn't an ideal setup, but it certainly is better than what we've got right now. The CBO estimates it'll reduce the deficit by $210 billion over the next 9 years or so, not a huge amount in the long run, but hardly chump change. Republicans often cite that it will kill 650,000 jobs, pointing to a CBO report. What they left out, however, was the fact that that same report also says that these people will voluntarily quit their jobs because they wouldn't need the health insurance provided by the job. So really, the ACA will just make it easier for people to retire without fear of not having insurance. A fate worse than death, I'm sure. 

Anyways, the biggest sticking point of the law, as I'm sure many of you know, is the individual mandate, that says that you must buy health care if you can afford it. If you can't afford it, you'll get a subsidy. If you still refuse to buy it, you have to pay a fee to opt out. This, many argue, is unconstitutional because it makes you purchase something you don't want to. But look at the alternative, which we have today: if an uninsured person goes to a hospital in an emergency and they perform surgery on him, who pays for it? You guessed it, you and every other Tom, Dick, and Harry have to pick up the tab. So really, what the law does is try to prevent the infamous free-rider problem that we see in economics. 

Overall, though, this law ought to be a dream to Republicans. They should be fawning over the thing because it provides nearly (give or take) universal coverage while maintaining as much in the way of free-market principles as it can. You know why? Because it's a Republican idea.  Newt Gingrich knows it, Mitt Romney knows it, his advisers know it, (Hell, one of them came out and said they're the "same fucking laws" last month!) I suspect that their opposition to the law largely stems from one of two areas: they either don't like it because it was Obama's achievement, or they are caught up in the same seemingly mindless Tea Party Express freedom mania that's serving to radicalize one of America's two major political parties (one that used to be reasonable) to the point of being truly frightening.