Should we ask about health insurance before calling ambulance?

April 3, 2012

A man was in the middle of asking a question at the recent 14th Representative District Republican meeting in Lewes when he suddenly bolted up out of his seat, as though from an electric shock.

Sitting behind him, I heard him say, “Am I having a heart attack?”

After he bolted upward again, two things happened. Members, including Sixth District senatorial candidate Glen Urquhart, began praying with him, and, naturally, someone called 9111.

No one thought to ask if he had health insurance. There was no reason to. In America, hospitals are required to treat anyone who shows up sick or injured.

That’s what I don’t understand about last week’s Supreme Court arguments concerning the Affordable Health Care Act.

Judging from much of the commentary, the question would appear to revolve around whether the federal government has the constitutional power to require people to buy health insurance.

But the real problem is that hospitals are forced to treat people whether or not they have health insurance. That is what we, as a civilized society, have decided we want. I haven’t heard anyone argue against sick people being treated.

(Imagine the uproar if an injured person were refused treatment because he lacked health insurance. No matter how much this person had insisted on his right not to buy health insurance, his family would expect him to be treated.)

Once we decide we’re going to treat the sick and injured, it follows, as surely as night follows day, that this healthcare is going to have to be paid for.

By somebody. Somehow. Some way. There is no free lunch.

This is not about the federal government becoming a “nanny state.” It’s about us having an adult conversation about paying for what we as a nation demand.

People can’t opt out of government-mandated healthcare even if they wanted to. If they’re in a bad accident, they will be whisked to the hospital no matter what.

So what did we hear about last week? We heard a lot about broccoli. We heard that if the government can force us to buy health insurance it can force us to do anything, including buying broccoli. (Really, Justice Scalia? That’s the best you got?)

But not buying broccoli or gym memberships is different from not buying health insurance. No one can argue that you are harming others by not buying broccoli.
That’s not the case with forgoing health insurance. I pay for an expensive, high-deductible plan that covers very little in the way of everyday health expenses. Part of the reason my policy is so expensive is that I have to help cover the costs of people who choose not to buy insurance. It’s not a nominal amount, either. Estimates are that it adds $1,000 a year to my - and everyone else’s - health insurance bill.

If the court does indeed gut the individual insurance mandate, the reason will be because it has decided people have a constitutional right not to buy health insurance. Which means that I will pay higher health insurance premiums.

Which means that, in effect, the court will have decided that people have a constitutional right to reach into my pocket and force me to pay for their health insurance.

That’s why conservatives used to back the individual health insurance mandate. The concept was popularized by the conservative Heritage Foundation and endorsed by Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch and former senator Bob Dole.

(When Dole ran for president in 1996, I considered him to the right of center. With his support of the individual mandate, Dole would now be considered a leftist, if not a socialist.)

For a moment, try to forget about labels - left, right, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, progressive, whatever - and tell me why people should have a Supreme Court-endorsed right to force me to pay for their insurance. Here’s something else to consider. Republicans anxious to see the Affordable Health Care Act destroyed might want to be careful what they wish for. My understanding is that no one questions the constitutionality of a single-payer healthcare system.

By the way, the last I heard the man mentioned above is doing fine. I’m glad to live in a country where people don’t hesitate calling 911 in an emergency.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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