Thursday, September 3, 2009

Healthcare Reform Finger-Biting Incident: The Question No One Has Asked

The Internet is buzzing with news that a protestor favoring healthcare reform morphed into Mike Tyson and bit off the finger of a 65-year-old opponent of healthcare reform. Conservative and liberal bloggers have exchanged jabs -- pretending that the ideology of either the biter or bitee says something about the merits of healthcare reform. Kids: GROW UP!

Here's a more interesting question, suggested to me by a dear friend who shares my zeal for provocative things: Does the victim in the finger attack have health insurance? According to reports, the individual drove himself to a hospital. If he has health insurance, then that is great. If he does not, then federal law requires that emergency rooms offer care to everyone in need. The taxpayers pay for this. Universal coverage could help bring down those costs.

Because the victim is 65, it is very likely that he has Medicare (UPDATE: He has Medicare - see below). Medicare is a public health plan. It is the largest public plan in the nation. Although Republicans argue that public plans = socialized medicine, they pretend to care about Medicare. Apparently, 62% of Republicans want the government to "stay out of Medicare," which is clearly impossible. If the victim has Medicare and opposes healthcare reforms, then it is ironic that he used taxpayer money to get treatment that he does not believe taxpayer money should provide to others.

Even if the victim has an employer-sponsored plan, studies show that state and federal tax policy heavily subsidizes those programs by not treating the value of the benefits as income and allowing employers to take a deduction for the costs of paying premiums. If the victim has bought and paid for his own insurance on the open market, he is in a category of roughly 5% of Americans. That's great for him, but I cannot think of a good reason why the status of 5% of Americans should dictate the outcome of healthcare reform debates.

Final Word: Finger biting is horrible. Being uninsured is horrible. Let's remedy both!

UPDATE: According to the Associated Press, the victim has Medicare. He is a public plan recipient who apparently opposes public plans.


Aspasia said...

Love the hypocrisy of the "Greatest Generation". It's just amazing.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aspasia: It's stunning.

kennnnnli said...

It is not ironic that he used taxpayer money to get treatment; as he is a taxpayer he should see at least some returns for the 65 years worth of tax money that was taken from him. Understandably people give in to using government programs, which is because they've already paid for the service through taxes and cannot afford to pay for the same thing twice.

Read my response to the incident:

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said... The notion that people pay taxes for Medicare (and Social Security) and that they recover this same money when they are older is an absolute myth. Assuming this person even paid taxes, this would not entitle him to Medicare. Basically you are arguing that as long as people have tax liability, they are entitled to government-funded healthcare. That's really "big" government.

Prior to Medicare, seniors could not get full coverage from private insurance unless they were very wealthy. Why is it the government's obligation to pay for seniors -- as opposed to others who are unable to get insurance?

Finally, your suggestion that the individual already paid for the services "through taxes" is flawed. First, as I said before, health insurance for the elderly was only affordable by the wealthiest of individuals prior to Medicare. Medical services to seniors is heavily subsidized -- far beyond what they contributed in federal taxes (certainly when you consider the dramatic price increase in both insurance and medical services since the period that today's seniors were working full time).

Second, you are implying that people who are uninsured do not pay taxes. They do. There are a lot of working people without insurance. There are a lot of people who lose coverage between jobs. Many of them, like seniors in the absence of Medicare, cannot afford health insurance. Why do seniors deserve government subsidies as opposed to others?

Finally, many taxpayers subsidize benefits that they do not use. I do not have kids, but my local and federal taxes fund public schools and universities. I have auto insurance, but I am forced to contribute to the "uninsured motorist" fund through local taxation. I thought the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were unnecessary before they ever happened -- not after they failed, like many other Americans now believe. But I could not opt out of funding those wars (or any other). Some drivers use interstate roadways much more than I, but this fact will not allow me to pay fewer taxes.

Your portrayal of the tax system suggests that people have an individual account with the Treasury Department and that they can trace their contributions and block them from going to certain uses or recover them when they reach a certain age. This, however, is FICTIONAL.

SO: Yes - it is ironic that someone who utilizes government-funded healthcare also likely believes that government-funded healthcare is an abomination.

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