At 11:30 p.m. Monday, Stephen Colbert returned to living rooms around the country with a new episode of The Colbert Report after a one-week Thanksgiving hiatus. His lead-in? HealthCare.gov, of course. Colbert pounced on administration officials who are proclaiming “victory” as a 90 percent success rate.
“Get on the school bus, kids! Principal Obama says the bridge is 90 percent complete,” Colbert quipped enthusiastically before showing a bridge with the road missing in the middle. His critique that the website’s problems are unjustifiable are correct and play directly into the hands of his intended audience.
But as an attack against the law’s functionality, his observation runs parallel to the point of the Affordable Care Act. Colbert began the show with a tongue-in-cheek statement that he was thankful poor people still cannot get health insurance. This is only partially true: They cannot buy coverage through the website, but there are other channels available — they are just less convenient.
Conflating the issue of HealthCare.gov and Obamacare works as a political talking point, but it directs attention away from what the true argument is: what the role of government should be. A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute — a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life,” according to its website – suggests that this belief falls along party lines.
When asked “Should government play a role in providing access to health insurance,” 37 percent of those surveyed want individuals to find a solution, while 40 percent say it is a governmental responsibility. Only 15 percent of self-identified Republicans want government involved, compared to 65 percent of Democrats.
PBS’s Newshour recently explored this issue, airing a discussion between Jacob Hacker, a professor of political science at Yale University, and Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Hacker thinks “Americans for a long time have believed that health care is an essential public responsibility,” and that the Affordable Care Act was “designed to become an integral part of the American social fabric, like Medicare or Social Security.” Hacker, too, faulted the rollout of the law, which has caused a “difficult period” because “the implementation of it has been so poorly handled and because it’s such a fragmented system.”
He then returned to the crux of the issue: that he thinks the current system is flawed and favors higher-income earners who already have health insurance. According to Hacker, the law is designed to be a stepping stone within the current framework that will eventually lead to a better insurance system in the United States. It should be a system in which if you lose your job, you do not lose coverage, he said on Newshour.
Roy was not as willing to accept this line of thought. The Manhattan Institute fellow first contested the idea that the onus of health care falls on the American people. “The American public doesn’t necessarily believe that government should have complete responsibility for the health care system or even a broad responsibility for the health care system,” Roy said.
He, too, finds fault in the current state of affairs, which has “enormous waste.” On Newshour, Roy brought attention to the unaffordable system, high levels of government spending, and the burden this places on middle-class taxpayers. For him, the Affordable Care Act is worse because health care costs will increase.
In the end, it is about “individual liberty versus a central design of the insurance market,” in Roy’s opinion. Giving people more control and greater opportunity when selecting a health care plan will drive down costs, but it’s “when the government starts to determine what the plans must contain that you have problems with access to care.”
Ideology and government responsibility do not boil down to talking points or show-opening monologues. The delays, bugs, glitches, etc., are inexcusable for either party, but focusing solely on those things and making that the same issue as the underpinnings of the law itself ignores the actual debate.
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