Melanie Sturm: If you like your freedom, you can keep it
December 11, 2013
In the waiting room of Memorial Sloan-Kettering's radiation treatment center, I discovered that in the race of life, those running to stay on the track are among the most determined, hopeful and courageous. They're also grateful, for it's in the sanctuary of sympathetic and expert care where cancer patients experience calm and clarity after the storm of diagnosis and decision-making.
As if living with cancer-induced anxiety weren't enough, many Sloan-Kettering patients must think again about their treatment, since the cancer center is among many prominent hospitals no longer "in network" for most Obamacare-compliant insurance plans.
Americans already have the world's best health care system. The question is how to make it broadly accessible, especially to the most vulnerable. Claiming a monopoly on moral and political virtue and disparaging as uncompassionate obstructionists those who opposed the 2,700-page Affordable Care Act, lawmakers drove its passage, promising increased access, lower costs and, "If you like your doctors, you can keep them, period."
Now it's broken hearts and spirits — not just broken promises, websites and insurance systems — that plague intrepid patients, to their providers' frustration. Meanwhile, healthy Americans laboring under stagnant wages are recoiling from sticker and doc shock, proving C. S. Lewis' maxim that "those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
"Pay more for less" isn't a winning slogan, but it's the truth. The collusion of government and insurance companies to limit competition and consumer choice has impaired Americans' freedom to be value-oriented shoppers and imperiled our property and privacy rights.
Americans want patient-centered and patient-owned health care and an array of competitive choices to assure price stability, service quality and access to all. But rather than consider targeted and less disruptive changes like insurance portability, tort reform, tax credits and high-risk pools, Obamacare proponents further straitjacketed the health care system with one-size-fits-all mandates, taxes and micromanagement by an inept bureaucracy.
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Yet lawmakers won't wear the straitjacket they designed for Americans. Sen. Harry Reid's staff is exempted from Obamacare, and according to the Los Angeles Times, Congress and staffers enjoy "more generous benefits packages, VIP customer service from insurers and the same government-subsidized premiums they've always enjoyed."
This is government over the people — not our founders' vision of government of, by and for the people. They wanted America to be the exception to human history's rule, where tyranny, bondage and stifled human potential defined life for the vast majority. While French revolutionaries were sticking dissenters' heads on bayonets, America's revolutionaries established self-government and enshrined popular consent and human equality — the idea that no one by nature can be the ruler of anyone else — in our founding documents.
To preserve individual freedom, they designed a government system that separated political powers and dispersed authority, pitting "ambition against ambition" to check political impulsiveness. To force consensual deliberations and thwart large mistakes like Obamacare, the Senate was to be the "necessary fence" against the "fickleness and passion" of the House, where transient majorities rule.
But lawmakers more interested in advancing partisan agendas than assuring government's legitimacy and durability have chipped away at the system that enabled American society to become the freest, most productive and most decent in human history.
They've passed massive, lobbyist-written and unread laws on party-line votes; concentrated power in the executive branch and the unaccountable administrative state; and, most recently, activated the "nuclear option" in the Senate to eliminate the filibuster (a 60-vote threshold requiring consultation with the minority) on presidential nominees — a 2-century-old tradition.
Ironically, Americans aren't so polarized. Though politicians exploit wedge issues to foment divisions, we're united in wanting to limit the size, power and cost of government. We know that to overcome our challenges, individual citizens must wrest decision-making authority away from Washington.
Fifty years ago, instead of attending the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, President John F. Kennedy went to Dallas, where he was assassinated. In commemorating these anniversaries, Americans recall why these leaders are revered — because they united us around shared values, summoning us to assure liberty's survival for subsequent generations.
Kennedy declared, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it," imploring us to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Lincoln roused a fractured citizenry to finish the soldiers' work so that "these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Exhausted by democracy's follies, we should recall these words and heed their advice.
Think again: Rather than allow politicians to divide us, remember we're all freedom-loving Americans eager to realize our full potential in the race of life.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to think again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.