I thought this headline, saying ‘people could die. That’s okay,’ was meant ironically. It wasn’t…

I got a bit of whiplash reading the opinion section on my Washington Post app over the weekend.

I saw this headline, “End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.” Beyond that, all I could see without clicking on the link was part of this opening sentence: “Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Courtdeals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017.”

And I thought, Oh boy, some liberal is engaging in standard partisan hyperbole, trying to make us think that those horrible Republicans think it’s OK that people would die if Obamacare were repealed. Sheesh.

And then, I clicked on the link, and the first thing I saw was that the author of the column, Michael R. Strain, “is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” And I thought, Wow, that’s counterintuitive, for someone from AEI to be castigating Republicans for wanting to end Obamacare. AEI must represent a broader spectrum of viewpoints than I had thought. I wonder if this guy gets ostracized by the OTHER “resident scholars,” or do they respect his take on things? If such a piece is coming from AEI, it must really be interesting…

And then, I started reading. And quickly realized there was no irony or hyperbole involved here. This guy was serious. He really was saying that people will die if Obamacare goes away, and that that’s OK. What’s left of Jonathan Swift must be rolling over about now.

Here is the operative passage:

During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.

Except, it’s not.

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

He goes on, of course, to explain that what he means is that we make decisions that result in people dying all the time. For instance, if we really didn’t want anyone to die in a traffic accident, speed limits would be set at 10 mph. But we make a tradeoff.

And of course, our healthcare payment system makes decisions not to pay for potentially life-saving care all the time. That was what was so ridiculous about the overheated rhetoric from the right about “death panels” — did Sarah Palin et al. not see that insurance companies, in their bids to hold down costs, have long acted as “death panels”?

But still, I was startled. One seldom sees the case for death made so openly…

8 thoughts on “I thought this headline, saying ‘people could die. That’s okay,’ was meant ironically. It wasn’t…

  1. Karen Pearson

    You mean Whirligig Jonathan? That’s what his cemetery neighbors call him these days. The difference between health insurance, and a speed limit is that the speed limit applies to everyone equally. Death (or disability) from something medically correctable but expensive applies only to the poor who are uninsured. Even there, they frequently end up getting some treatment in an emergency room at high cost to insurance consumers.

  2. Juan Caruso

    The public is being conned by the government. Official U.S. poverty thresholds exclude the value of all noncash benefits to the impoverished recipients.

    “We could lift all of these people up out of what is defined as poverty at a cost of around $550 billion. That’s in the 3 or 4% of GDP range*.

    …What I want to point out is that to an acceptable level of accuracy this is already done. $550 billion is indeed spent on the poor so therefore there shouldn’t be any poverty. The reason there still is, by the way we measure it, because we don’t count that $550 billion as reducing poverty. Which is a very strange way of doing things when you come to think about it.

    …The poverty estimates released today compare the official poverty thresholds to money income before taxes, not including the value of noncash benefits.” – Tim Worstall, “If The US Spends $550 Billion On Poverty How Can There Still Be Poverty In The US?”

  3. Rusty Inman

    Actually, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal came clean not too many months ago per “openly…making a case for death.”

    Addressing a group at UGA in Athens, he responded to a question about the number of poor Georgians who would go without healthcare because he had rejected the Medicaid expansion (a further part of the question involved how many more rural hospitals in the Peach State would close as a result of his rejection) by suggesting that local, state and federal governments simply cannot afford plans that insure equal access to credible healthcare for those who live in the United States.

    “Some will just have to go without,” he said. And he then suggested repealing the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986, which requires hospitals to provide emergency medical treatment to anyone who needs it and to do so without regard for ability to pay or citizenship or any other qualifiers. He called it a “bad law” which evolved from “bad facts,” though he was unable to recall the “bad facts” that had led to the passage of such a “bad law.”

    Someone in the audience questioned the PR effects of pictures appearing in newspapers or magazines or all across the social media spectrum of dying people lying on sidewalks just outside the doors of hospital emergency rooms. Someone else questioned the ethical issues that would confront doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals per not treating a person whose life hangs in the balance because of inability to pay. It was almost as if, with each successive question, the audience sank deeper into the darkness of a moral and ethical quagmire that, in 2014, seemed—seems—unimaginable for a country that touts its “exceptionalism.”

    Governor Deal, of course, had no answers for any of these questions—one suspects that he seldom dips his pedicured toes into the murky waters of moral and ethical quagmires—and could only stammer the same-old, same-old tired cliches that all centered around a return to his the theme of “some will have to do without.”

    Only one certainty emerged from a conversation I suspect the good governor wishes he had not been part of: We all know who the “some” that “will have to do without” are.

      1. Rusty Inman

        Oops, my bad! Who knew that you knew about pedicures? I knew little to nothing about them, until now. But, I now know that there are at least 13 types of pedicures, each involving different parts or combinations of parts of the foot. Oh, including the toes. As well as the, uh, toenails.

        I was working off a saved paragraph from the Journal/Constitution of several years ago that described the governor as being a regular for manicures and pedicures. As to the particular type of either, I’ll defer to your greater knowledge of the subject.

        As to the more serious side of the conversation, it does surprise me that it has not evoked more comment or conversation. I mean, what about that “sanctity of life” thingey? And, we do, don’t we, know who the “some” that “will have to do without” are, don’t we? Finally, as to that “scarcity of resources” mentioned by Mr. Strain, do we have any doubts about which end of the socioeconomic scale will be more affected by that scarcity?

        Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps it’s not a moral/ethical quagmire. Perhaps there aren’t any internal contradictions in his essay/column/whatever. I mean, before they adopted the prescriptive mandate that they “honor” their fathers and mothers, the ancient Semitic tribe of nomadic sheepherders that became the Israelites would leave their old and fragile by the side of the road and simply move ahead to the next stopping place—just too much baggage to carry. And then there are stories about the old and fragile being placed on ice floes. Perhaps I just take these kinds of things too seriously. Perhaps I should concentrate on whether or not the words “pedicure” and “toes” are properly relative.


        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Manicures and pedicures are the proper care of the hand/foot and nails. They include removing excessively dry skin, moisturizing what remains, and the grooming (trimming and shaping) of the nails and cuticles. They do not necessarily involve the application of nail polish. They can simply involve buffing the nail. However, people often use manicure/pedicure to refer to the polish part only.

          What’s next?

          1. Rusty Inman

            What’s next would involve a closer—and, better—reading of my comment, which actually never mentioned either manicures or, uh, “the application of nail polish” as pertains to pedicures.

            And perhaps, given your extensive knowledge of “manicures and pedicures,” you could give us more about the differentials involved in the 13 different types of pedicures that are apparently available. Your first effort at description reeks of generalities and offers nothing that would invite further curiosity. Take some time, next time.

            Then, of course, you could offer something along the lines of a cogent, intelligent comment about a moral/ethical issue with which our culture has never fully dealt and which threatens to once again become part of our national conversation. But, if you can do no better than Warthen, whose blithe dismissal of it—after actually bringing it up himself by the inclusion of the commentary—does make one wonder why he brought it up, don’t bother.

            Now, you can decide whether that worm in the water has just lost its way and would make a fine free meal or if it is attached to a hook whose bite might have more serious consequences than your own.

            That’s next for you.

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