Anniversary arrives absent death panels

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Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act, if you support it -- or Obamacare, if you don't.

As one who supports the law but is disappointed in one aspect, I have a question: So where are the death panels already?

No death panels are in sight, and some of us are dying to see them implemented. It just goes to show that Big Government can't organize a booze-up in a brewery.

What a disappointment. Sarah Palin promised they would come -- on moose's honor! -- so I made a list of several pesky people I planned to refer to the local death panel when socialism was allegedly introduced.

OK, I didn't really wish to see those irritating people deceased; I just wanted them wrapped in red tape and tickled with an old-fashioned feather duster of the sort kept in government departments. This is harsh in its own way, yes, but sulking hasn't worked on these people.

Actually, we were told by the critics of health care all sorts of bad things would happen that, in fact, haven't happened.

Admittedly, it's early yet and the insurance mandate part of the law won't go into effect until 2014, but other steps taken under the law appear to benefit people -- such as insurers being required to cover children with pre-existing conditions.

That is not what we were told. The critics were promising apocalypse now, and here we are one year into now and there's no apocalypse.

By this time, we were supposed to all be wearing Mao jackets, only open at the back so government doctors could do their unspeakable examinations. The critics didn't say anything about helping sick kids and their parents.

But I am not here today to give a full accounting of the law's merits and flaws. No, I wish to focus on the one man upon which the future of health care reform hangs: Mr. Passive.

You may not have heard yet of Mr. Passive for the very good reason that he is so passive.

As it happens, this inactive fellow isn't really the only one who will decide the fate of universal health care. That task will fall instead to members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet towering over their deliberations will be the long shadow of Mr. Passive who, in his passivity, objects to being made to buy health insurance when he has taken a vow of inactivity in the health care market.

The future importance of Mr. Passive was presaged by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Florida, who in January found the health care law unconstitutional because it required Americans to purchase insurance.

As he wrote: "If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain ..."

Can inactivity be activity? The very existence of the Congress would suggest so. Indeed, while I am no lawyer, I think a common-sensical argument can be made that Mr. Passive is not as passive as he thinks he is.

Mr. Passive's objections to buying health insurance can take two forms. In the first place, he can stand ready to pay his own way when he needs medical assistance.

While this seems reasonable, experience teaches that those who pay their own way can end up paying $100 for an aspirin in the nonsensical world of health care billing. And as the poet John Donne should have written long ago, "No man is an island, entire of itself/every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main market for aspirin ..."

Or else Mr. Passive could say he has never been sick and never intends to get sick and therefore doesn't need government-mandated insurance.

In some hearty backwater of this vast land, perhaps a man does exist who has never needed a doctor in his whole life and would be shocked to be made to go to one. ("They wear white jackets! They have old magazines in the waiting room!")

But the rest of us are not so hardy and have racked up a lifetime of ailments and mishaps. As another poet should have said (Thomas Gray, for those keeping score at home): "The paths of glory lead but to the ER."

No, Mr. Passive is being confused with his neighbor Mr. Legal Fiction in the debates about health care reform. His name should be submitted to a death panel for a good feather duster tickling.

It's too bad the government can't organize a booze-up in a brewery. Someone needs to raise a glass and say: "To your health, health care reform -- a civilized and decent nation can't do without you."


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668. Read his blog "Reg on Wry" at www.post-gazette.com/regonwry .


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