If you think you are tired of reading blog posts about health care reform, think about the 30 million Americans who lack access to adequate health care because they do not have insurance. If you wish the issue would just go away, or you are worried that further government intrusion might muck up our health care system, contemplate the fact that last year, during a recession mind you, the five largest health insurance companies raked in a profit of $12.2 billion. If you think there is a better way to reform the health care system than the plan currently taking shape in negotiations in the Congress, you are undoubtedly right, but this is the only plan with a reasonable shot at getting passed now. And if no health care plan passes now, no one will touch the issue for another twenty years.
It is shameful, as in full of shame, that some people continue to distort the proposed plan. There appear to be wildly different understandings of what precisely the competing approaches to abortion entail, with most media outlets concluding the Senate version does not provide federal funds for abortion and other groups, some of them reputable, others not so much, insisting that only the Stupak language is good enough. You can pick who you want to believe, but everyone has to admit that both the Senate approach and the Stupak approach really defeat the goal of the pro-choice forces, which was to use the health care reform debate to make it seem like abortion is just another form of health care. The pro-choice forces have failed. Now, as far as I can tell, the positions various groups are taking have less to do with the actual policy implications of the rival approaches than with political loyalty. (I do not think political loyalty is a bad thing, of course, but it is a different concern from a policy concern.) People who encouraged Mr. Stupak to go out on a limb, and watched him go, are understandably reluctant to cut that limb off with him out there. The Senate, which has fewer pro-life members, rejected the Stupak approach but nonetheless adopted an alternative, and I think preferable, approach to the issue.
Let me state again, seeing as some commentators seem to have trouble understanding the issue, what I like best about the Senate proposal. Whereas Stupak is silent on the issue of people buying insurance on the new exchanges entirely with their own money, under the Senate bill, everyone who buys insurance through the exchanges, whether they get a government subsidy or use only their own money, everyone will have to write a separate check every month for the portion of their plan that covers abortion. Those who do not want to pay for the abortion coverage are free to pick a plan that does not include abortion coverage and the bill mandates that every exchange have at least one such bill. Why is this so important? Because the didactic value of making many, many people write a separate check every month will bring home as nothing else that abortion is not health care. And this is important because the next dozen years will be the last time the society has anything to say about most abortions: When the patent runs out on RU-486, most abortions will cost $20 and be performed in the privacy of the bathroom by taking a generic pill.
My reasons for preferring the Senate bill may not be yours. And, I am perfectly content with the Stupak approach incidentally. Both strike me as victories for the pro-life movement. But, in this last week of debate and discussion about health care, can we all refrain from assessing each other’s motives? Sometimes, I read the comments and I feel like I do not have to examine my conscience before going to confession because so many of you are already doing that for me. We can, as the President insists, disagree without being disagreeable. I think those that oppose the President’s plan are wrong, but I do not think they are bad. Okay – those who talk about Medicare cuts are so hypocritical that they qualify as bad. But, I do think that at this moment in history, and provided we keep adequate restrictions against abortion funding, that we would be foolish in the extreme to miss the opportunity to finally, at long last, establish the fact that health care is a basic human right that should be extended to all within our borders. We may not get there soon. The bill might be imperfect. The law, if passed, will face unanticipated problems. But, if Americans come to see health care as a birthright the way they see Social Security, there will be no taking it away. And that will be a huge triumph for the cause of justice.
Michael Sean Winters