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The battle for health care reform

By 2014, the full Affordable Care Act will take effect. The more Americans understand what it offers, the more they'll like it. The right-wingers who ran off with the Republican Party are scared spitless.

Thus far, the tactic has been to snarkify it all as "ObamaCare" and mutter, "Hey, Obummer can't force Americans to pay for anything they don't want to. Anyway, he's more than likely a closet Muslim born in Kenya, not a real American. And he's maybe a Marxist, too." Yeah, well ...

Twenty-six politically red states have specifically targeted the mandate to buy insurance or pay a fine. Last I knew, federal appeals courts in the District of Columbia and Michigan ruled the provision was constitutional. In Virginia, the federal court dismissed two complaints for lack of standing. In Georgia, where anti-ACA forces thought their odds best, an appeals court did rule the mandate unconstitutional by a vote of 2 to 1.

The administration has responded: bring it on. The Obama Justice Department requested the Supreme Court to rule on the decision of the Georgia appeals court. Next week, the highest court will hear six hours of oral argument, and try to reach a decision by late June.

As to ObamaCare otherwise, here are a few statistics I found worth considering. Maybe you will, too.

Of the 33 developed nations, 32 have some form of universal health care. The only one that doesn't? Our own. Cost? The U.S. spends $8,160 per capita -- double the average of other industrialized countries.

"But we have outcomes that are typically about average, and we're not improving as quickly as other countries are improving," summarized Gerard Anderson, professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins University, in a 2009 New York Daily News story.

In the U.S., what percentage of health care cost comes from paperwork and insurance bureaucracy? About 31 percent. Fifteen of the 33 countries have single-payer systems. How much would be saved by having a nonprofit, single-payer system? An estimated $400 billion -- every year! The fact our health care lacks such a system is a shame.

Of the 50 million Americans without health insurance, how many are dependent children? About 8 million kids -- nearly 3 times the total population of Kansas.

How many Americans have pre-existing conditions that make them uninsurable -- or would make them so if they were to lose their jobs? The estimate varies widely but could be as many as 82 million. They have ailments as routine as diabetes or asthma to as serious as Parkinson's, heart problems or cancer. If you're between 55 and 65, chances are good you have a pre-existing condition. If you're an adult in great shape today, the odds are better than one in seven you'll develop such a condition within eight years.

Are more employers providing health care coverage? No. In 1999, 64 percent did. In 2010, just 55 percent.

As a sound bite, the word "freedom" is powerful. But with freedom comes responsibility. As a quick example, we are not legally free to drive without a driver's license for which we pay, not free to exceed the speed limit. If we get caught, there's a fine. We are not free to drive without liability insurance. We have to pay for it if we're responsible citizens. Those who drive without auto insurance often stick somebody else for the bills they themselves cause.

Those without health insurance run up expenses doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, taxpayers and small businesses wind up paying. In 2008, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill amounted to $34 billion. (Incidentally, more than a third of uninsured individuals or families have an annual income of at least $50,000.)

With tax credits and other provisions written into ObamaCare, what percentage of Americans would be saddled with a penalty for not buying health insurance? Just one percent. Eighty-three percent of us already have insurance. As for premium costs, "The CBO reports that, for most people, premiums will stay about the same, or slightly decrease." (Politifact.com)

Given the bone-headed SCOTUS decision in Citizens United, optimism may be unwarranted. In June they may cave in to anti-health care reform, anti-Obama politics. We'll wait. But if you're one of the people who want to be "free" not to buy health care insurance, maybe you'll sign a declaration to refuse all subsidized medical help until you kick the bucket. It'll save the rest of us money.

But that would be hard-hearted of us, wouldn't it?

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net