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Charlie Mitchell: Health insurance not the real issue in Mississippi

 

Charlie Mitchell

 

OXFORD -- Child playing baseball breaks his leg. Mom needs a pacemaker. Dad has had a stroke and is on his way to the emergency room. 

 

Even the most conservative of conservatives won't say these people must have money or insurance -- or be turned away at the hospital door. A few may differ, but most accept the premise that in America, a gathering of humanity that has been richly blessed, people's medical needs should be met. 

 

So what's the problem in Mississippi? Why have the Legislature and the governor fought Obamacare tooth and toenail? 

 

The answer is that it's not about insurance. 

 

It's about a duality, real or perceived, that America is being wrecked by a rising number of "takers" and shrinking number of "givers." 

 

This hostility extends to all aid programs, even where ill-founded. (The Affordable Care Act isn't another handout to those who are poor, aged or both. The poor have Medicaid; the aged have Medicare and the poor and aged have Medicaid and Medicare.) 

 

As Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out, Obamacare is a tax -- a new tax, a big tax. 

 

A Kaiser Family Foundation online calculator is available to anyone -- free (kff.org). Enter the info for a family of four (two 35-year-olds and two children) living in Jackson with a household income of $50,000, and the result is this: An average health policy would cost $14,283 per year less a $10,918 tax credit for a net of $3,365 or $280.42 per month. 

 

If this prototypical family had no insurance, $280.42 per month is a lot more than they were paying: 6.7 cents more in taxation plucked from every earned dollar. But on the other hand, it puts them in the pool, no longer facing bankruptcy for a child's broken leg or having others, the previously insured, pick up the cost of their uncompensated care. 

 

Is Obamacare nice, clean legislation? 

 

Heck no. 

 

It's a mess that is (1) underfunded and (2) filled with carve-outs for special interests. 

 

It's a super-duper three-ring mess. 

 

Former Gov. Haley Barbour said so. So did (and does) Commissioner of Insurance Mike Chaney. But what those two Republicans concluded is that Congress (and the Supreme Court) dealt the cards and that Mississippi should play the hand in the least painful way possible. 

 

No, said Gov. Phil Bryant, insisting the state would be bankrupted. No, said the Republicans who control the House and Senate. Do they have a better plan? Well, the answer is "no" there, too. 

 

The confusion (and deception) that has been part of this conversation may be unprecedented. 

 

Last week, when the deadline (that is not a deadline) for the uninsured to buy a policy (which might cost too much and might be free) passed, President Obama declared victory based on internal numbers showing 7 million enrolled. 

 

When pushing for universal coverage, it was routinely reported that 15 million or 40 million or 44 million or 48 million did not have policies. Since when is signing up fewer than one-half (or one-eighth) a win? (The most reliable stats are probably from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, which was reporting a steady annual decline in uninsured citizens before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, most recently to 15.4 percent of the population in 2012.) 

 

More numbers? Forbes says half the people in Mississippi "required" to sign up did so. Good old Fox News says only 1.7 percent of the previously uninsured have enrolled and only a fraction have paid a premium. 

 

The president has said, although not very often, that the end game is a single-payer system copied and refined from those used in Canada, some of Asia and almost all of Europe. At its core, the purpose of the law is in keeping with the history of civilization. Sharing risks and rewards is what societies do. 

 

The hang-up is this deep-seated tension, this firm belief that too many game the system to obtain everything from cell phones to diapers to the food on their table and the roofs over their heads. Obamacare is seen as just another step on the road to having good, working people support lazy, shiftless people. 

 

That's a shame. 

 

The path toward the whole nation sharing the whole cost of health services would have been perilous enough. It has been made tougher by the notion that everything would be OK if all the freeloaders would just get a job.

 

 

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