Kristof: Why Obamacare matters

obamacareloveWant to get rid of Obamacare? Take heed of the story Nicholas Kristof tells in a recent New York Times posting.

His long-time friend Scott goes without health insurance because he did not think he could afford it. At age 52 he was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. Had he been insured, it’s likely the cancer would have been detected sooner.  Scott gambled, and lost.

The Affordable Healthcare Act is far from perfect. Kristoff terms it “inelegant.” But already, it is reducing the number of Americans without health insurance, those young people now covered under their parents’ plans. Come 2014, even more people will be insured. The personal mandate the Republicans so revile will make it possible for people like Scott to be covered.

Think this election is only about the two men who are running? As Kristoff points out, “The real impact of the election will be felt in the lives of men and women around the country…” People like Scott who are “battling a gnawing uncertainty that he should never have had to face, that no American should so needlessly endure.”

Kristof reflects further,

Let’s just stipulate up front that Scott blew it. Other people are sometimes too poor to buy health insurance or unschooled about the risks. Scott had no excuse… He’s the first to admit that he screwed up catastrophically and may die as a result.

Yet remember also that while Scott was foolish, mostly he was unlucky. He is a bachelor, so he didn’t have a spouse whose insurance he could fall back on in his midlife crisis. In any case, we all take risks, and usually we get away with them…

The Mitt Romney philosophy, as I understand it, is that this is a tragic but necessary byproduct of requiring Americans to take personal responsibility for their lives. They need to understand that mistakes have consequences. That’s why Romney would repeal Obamacare and leave people like Scott to pay the price for their irresponsibility.

To me, that seems ineffably harsh. We all make mistakes, and a humane government tries to compensate for our misjudgments. That’s why highways have guardrails, why drivers must wear seat belts, why police officers pull over speeders, why we have fire codes. In other modern countries, Scott would have been insured, and his cancer would have been much more likely to be detected in time for effective treatment.

Is that a nanny state? No, it’s a civilized one.