The Ur-Debate Over Health Care

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, November 19, 2013 11:02 EDT
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This clip from Chris Hayes’ show on Friday is the smartest thing I’ve seen about the ongoing battle over health care reform. It’s been frustrating watching people who really ought to know better give credence to the disinformation campaign on the right has been pushing about the cancellations of junk insurance under Obamacare and forcing customers to get real insurance instead. In a sense, it’s not surprising that the idiotic Ayn Rand worship would eventually lead to a situation where conservatives are actively and aggressively positing that it’s a basic human right to “get” to be ripped off by insurance companies if you “want” to, though of course the reality is most of the people throwing a fit over the loss of their junk insurance have no idea that they weren’t getting real coverage for the money they pay every month. Can you really want something if you don’t know what it is?

Well, as tempting as it would be to get into the weeds debating what “want” means if what you “want” is not what you think it is, that kind of diversion is exactly the sort of thing that Hayes is decrying here. The larger story here is that all this focus on largely anecdotal evidence of rate hikes—evidence that is inevitably dismantled when subject to the tiniest amount of scrutiny—is part of a larger strategy on the right to make sure that as many people as possible have no real access to health care. As Hayes points out, the consistent theme on the right, and this has been true for decades now, is that anything that makes it so more people get health care is something to be resisted. Indeed, even the feigned alarm over “cancellations” is really about making sure more people don’t get health care—conservatives are belligerently defending people’s “right” to pay money for health insurance that doesn’t provide real coverage, i.e. defending people’s “right” to be ripped off and not get health care.

It’s kind of bananas, but it really does go back to a very simple misconception that tends to not get talked about openly on the right, in part because everyone already believes they “know” this and don’t have to say it: It’s the fear that if other people get health care, the country will run out and there won’t be enough for them, the people who “deserve” it. That, and they don’t want poor people to get doctors because then poor people will show up in their waiting rooms and they’ll have to sit with them. If you doubt this, call up your favorite conservative and instigate a discussion about why emergency rooms suck. The length of the wait is a universal complaint, but oh, they will have more. But this is what’s going on when conservatives wail about the supposed “waiting times” they fear we’re facing with our totally not socialist health care system: That’s a nice, euphemistic way for them to assert their belief that they get first access to the supposedly limited pool of health care, and that the rest of us can maybe have some if any is left over.

The problem is that it doesn’t really work that way. Sure, there are some limits to how many patients doctors can see and whatnot, but the reality is that industries actually expand when the customer base does, because they have more money coming in. See: McDonald’s or WalMart or any business really. There’s not a finite number of pills out there that will run out, you know. In many aspects, universal health care reduces the infamous wait times in all sorts of ways. If people have more preventive care, for instance, they show up less in the emergency room using truly limited resources and forcing wait times to go up.

But the real ur-debate is this: Is it better to have a system where access to health care is heavily restricted by economic concerns, as long as it allows the wealthy to feel they don’t have to rub elbows with the poor? Or should we do what we can to make sure everyone has proper access to health care? I know how I feel about this. While the problems with Obamacare need to be fixed, it’s because we need to expand health care access. The goal of conservatives is to restrict it, and everything they do makes more sense if you keep that in mind.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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