An American Editor

February 21, 2011

From Obamacare to Pencecare: The Illogical Republican

…or Sometimes You Just Gotta Keep Those Matches Away

I admit that since I became a thinking adult way back in the 1960s I have thought there was something wrong with America’s healthcare system. Even then a single-payer system made the most sense to me. But I wasn’t rabid about it. I did think that Medicare, which I strongly supported and wrote my first-ever political letter to my congressperson about, would be the baby step that would move us down that path. As history has demonstrated, 50 years later we haven’t really gone beyond either that first step or beyond the internecine wars regarding what is and isn’t a proper government role in healthcare.

I do respect the views of those who fear government encroachment into healthcare. I don’t discount some of their arguments as some of them do have merit. But I do discount and have little respect for those whose arguments essentially boil down to “your government intervention threatens my freedom and thus is bad; my government intervention threatens only your freedom and thus is good.” Alas, that is the rhetoric being applied to Obamcare (“your government intervention threatens my freedom and thus is bad”) and Pencecare (“my government intervention threatens only your freedom and thus is good”) by Republicans and Tea Partiers.

(For those who haven’t quite caught on, Pencecare is the healthcare plan that Congressperson Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, and his fellow Republicans and Tea Partiers would like to foist on me and America — essentially, fend for yourself. Obamacare needs no definition today.)

What raised my hackles this week was the cutting of all funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion under any circumstance, and Obamacare. I don’t agree with everything Planned Parenthood does; I don’t agree 100% with the current plans for Obamacare; I don’t agree that abortion should be lightly undertaken or given — but I more fervently do not agree that Planned Parenthood should be wholly defunded; that Obamacare is not good for America and should not be funded; or that all abortions should be prohibited or made so difficult to get as to de facto prohibit them. There needs to be middle ground.

The Republican illogic runs many paths. It is not that Democrats aren’t often illogical, they are, but when it comes to healthcare, budgets, and morals, today’s Republicans are significantly more illogical (and more likely to run amuck) than Democrats. Consider this bit of budget busting: According to budget-cutting Republicans it is logical for the U.S. military to spend millions of taxpayer dollars sponsoring NASCAR races (which as a sport has a declining fan base; it would have been more logical to sponsor NFL football) but it is illogical to fund Sesame Street or family planning or universal healthcare. There is a severe disconnect.

And hasn’t the Republican-Tea Party battle cry against Obamacare been government intrusion into personal healthcare decisions — putting the government between the patient and the doctor? OK, let’s step aside from whether I think I am more likely to get an unbiased and better-for-me decision about my healthcare from a government bureaucrat who doesn’t have to worry about quarterly returns for shareholders than from a private insurer whose staff bonuses are determined by how much profit the company makes, not by how much healthcare it delivers to its insured. Instead let’s look at what the Republicans-Tea Party combination wants to give us: Pencecare. Pencecare puts the government squarely between the patient and the patient’s doctor because it has predetermined that universally certain forms of healthcare shall be denied the patient. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The difference between Obamacare and Pencecare is the neutrality factor. Obamacare is neutral. It gives citizens a menu of choices, from among which the citizen can choose. In contrast, Pencecare dictates what is permissible healthcare; it gives no choice. Whereas under Obamacare the patient, the patient’s family, and the patient’s doctors can consider the totality of circumstances and choose to take action (and among actions) or inaction, under Pencecare the patient has no need to consider anything, the family’s decisions are irrelevant, and the doctor might as well not exist — the government has made the decision in advance and regardless of circumstances.

Pencecare is the Republican formulation of Sarah Palin’s “death panels” for the rest of America. Sarah Palin’s “death panels” were dealing with end-of-life decision making (should we, for example, spend $1 million dollars of taxpayer funds to prolong the life of a 90-year-old person for 30 days?); in contrast, the Pencecare “death panels” deal with beginning-of-life decision making (should we, for example, compel a 12-year-old girl who was raped by her father to carry the fetus to term even though it is likely that she will die during the childbirth process?).

The other difference between Obamacare and Pencecare “death panels” is that under Obamacare the end-of-life discussion was voluntary whereas under Pencecare the beginning-of-life discussion cannot be held — to discuss it is forbidden.

One other thing that is striking about Pencecare. Unlike Obamacare which affects all classes of Americans, Pencecare almost wholly affects the lower socioeconomic classes. Enacting Pencecare has to be a relatively easy thing to do when your income is $170,000+ a year, enabling you to financially skirt its effects, and it is clear that the primary people affected will be those who earn less than $35,000 a year and often less than $15,000 a year.

Voters gave the Republicans and Tea Partiers matches to play with in this past election. The Republicans and Tea Partiers seem to be giddy with excitement about finally being able to play with fire, and so indiscriminately keep lighting those matches. The problem is that such giddiness is blinding them to their own hypocrisy. The least we should expect is no hypocrisy.

(For one perspective on the availability and affordability of health insurance, see Money Won’t Buy You Health Insurance, written by Donna Dubinsky, a cofounder of Palm Computer and CEO of Handspring, who begins: “This isn’t the story of a poor family with a mother who has a dreadful disease that bankrupts them, or with a child who has to go without vital medicines. Unlike many others, my family can afford medical care, with or without insurance.”)

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