OTHER OPINION: Stay the course on health care

By Anniston (Alabama) Star

Almost a week past the passage of Washington’s grand bargain on the debt ceiling, it’s time to take stock of a fascinating facet of the debate.
The wishlist for conservative Republicans included reforming Medicare and killing Obamacare. Got that? One is repaired and the other is wiped from the face of the earth.
Neither proposal was breathing by the time Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed off on a deal to cut spending and raise the amount of money the federal government can borrow. However, the terms of those two demands make a fascinating point about the current state of U.S. politics.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare, is still relatively new. Its major provisions such as the individual mandate to possess health insurance have yet to kick in. Many states, including Alabama, are challenging the constitutionality of the law, a process that is slowly making its way through the federal courts.
On the act’s first birthday this March, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 51 percent of respondents wished to either expand the law or keep it as written; 39 percent wished to either repeal and replace the law or kill it outright.
The jury is still out, subject to the whims of public mood and nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. For conservatives bargaining on the debt deal, however, there was no debate. They’ve nicknamed the despised law “Obamacare,” a slur uttered with all the disgust they can muster.
Medicare, on the other hand, is a treasured government program in need of “reform,” as was outlined earlier this year by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a rising star in Republican circles. Ryan and his allies balked when critics suggested his proposal would fundamentally alter Medicare, the health-insurance program for seniors. Throughout the spring, Ryan defended his plan, saying it would save Medicare “so that our children don’t have to make painful choices tomorrow.”
The would-be reformers insist Medicare fixes are on the table, but the sort of killing dreamed of for Obamacare is not. Another Kaiser Family Foundation poll suggests why. A 2009 survey found that 77 percent of respondents considered Medicare “very important.” Another 19 percent considered it “somewhat important.” No politician, regardless of ideology or the number of Tea Party rallies he attends, is going to oppose a government program that 96 percent of the nation finds value in.
Of course, that wasn’t always the case for Medicare. As The New Yorker’s Atul Gawande has reported, “On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law. In public memory, what ensued was the smooth establishment of a popular program, but in fact Medicare faced a year of nearly crippling rearguard attacks.”
With the law successfully defended by President Johnson through a combination of hardball tactics to beat back the segregationists and legislative fixes to appease the naysayers, Medicare went on over the decades to reach its lofty perch in the minds of almost all Americans. That must be why no one in today’s political culture ever discusses killing LBJcare.
Anniston (Ala.) Star

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