WASHINGTON -- One has to wonder why so many Americans look down on the changes in health care. Even odder is why they would be critical of the part of Obamacare that requires everyone to have health insurance.
It would seem that we have gotten the legal part of the fight more-or-less solved: Those who persist in not getting health insurance will not have to pay a fine under our interstate commerce conventions, but instead, a "tax" under our abundant tax regulations. If the whole thing is confusing to you, you have the great assurance that you are not alone. (Hopefully, it means you will also not be alone when you are diagnosed for cancer, lupus or heart problems.)
But if this small part of what will surely go down in history as the great debate over Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act seems momentarily solved, the understanding behind it does not.
You might ask, why is it important that everyone have health insurance? Well, the answer is quite simple. It's to ensure a basic level of public health and protect our modern mobile society from wide-ranging health risks.
Having health insurance is similar to having a driver's license -- you surely do not want to go out on the street without knowing that others have insurance. (You probably don't want to go out on the streets at all these days!)
When our great-grandparents were alive, more than likely they lived in villages, mostly in Europe. If a disease struck, it would generally strike one village, perhaps wiping out all of its people but not necessarily spreading to neighboring parts. There were exceptions to this: Between 1347 and 1351, the Black Death or plague hit Europe, a result of Chinese conflicts in the Crimea, and by the end about one-third of Europe was dead.
Think of today. We have 7 billion people on this small earth -- and growing. The air in every airplane just waits for someone with tuberculosis or asthma or a virus that attacks the heart to come aboard and spread a disease to innocent passengers who never realize that most airplanes still do not change the air for health's sake. I know something about the heart virus; one of them attacked me.
But not only airplanes are the guilty ones. Old viruses and new diseases are out there waiting for everyone, particularly in this world where everyone is on the move, traveling from place to place, too often with little thought of the health effects. Hospitals, of course, are often the worst places.
At this particular moment, I have four dear friends in four very different places who contracted terrible infections like E. coli from hospitals. They have all been in the hospital for months now. One has to wonder what they will get -- or give others -- this time.
The idea that it should be beholden upon everyone to buy health insurance, helped by subsidies from the government if they do not have the wherewithal, does not strike me as exactly like the Nazis taking over the government or the Soviets hanging Mitch McConnell in front of the Capitol. After all, Obamacare is nothing more than a mixed free-market/state-regulated system.
Although most Americans won't begin receiving the benefits of the health bill until about 2016, many already are: children up to 26 years old able to remain on their parents' insurance, insurance companies unable to throw people to the wolves if they dare to have some "pre-existing condition," and better prices for prescription drugs.
As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reminds us, only about 1 percent of Americans will have to be shocked into getting insurance. She unkindly calls them "free riders."
The president will surely have his name on the bill, while Chief Justice John Roberts will now have his name given to a great Roberts Court. (Not, of course, that we would suggest for a moment that that was his intention in going from right to left overnight.)
The well-known pollster John Zogby graded the president's week of Obamacare very highly. He notes that few presidents can claim to have passed major reform legislation, and he includes only Teddy Roosevelt in 1912-13, Franklin Roosevelt in 1933-36 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964-65. "It is not a question of whether we like or dislike the legislation," he wrote in his Weekly Report Card, but "it is that issues were addressed and passed. ... The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is one of those singular events."