The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 15, 2012

Kevin Wilson, guest columnist: Call it a penalty or a tax, but don’t call it reform

By Kevin Wilson

— OK, so I’m officially confused and hope someone can help me out. Is it a penalty, a tax or both? I thought about asking former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, but then I listened to part of her interview with David Gregory on “Meet the Press.” She said that “it’s a penalty that comes under the tax code.” Is that political double speak for tax? When Gregory pressed her for further explanation, she said, “It’s a t— ; it’s a penalty.”

She caught herself just in time before uttering the dreaded t-word. So, I’m not sure she’s the best person to answer my question.

Of course, you’ve probably already figured out that I’m referring to the massive health care overhaul called “Obamacare” — specifically the individual mandate, which the Supreme Court has ruled is indeed a tax. Those promoting the health care overhaul were very particular about calling the individual mandate anything besides a tax. In fact, in a September 2009 interview with George Stephanopoulos, President Barack Obama was very adamant that it was not a tax.

But here we are in 2012, in the middle of a very hot summer — both in terms of the thermometer and politics, and those in power who have pushed this new government mandate in the face of the opposition are happy to call it anything, just so long as the Supreme Court calls it constitutional. So, let’s quit mincing words and call it what it is — it’s a tax. In fact, I have referred to it all along as a “breathing tax” because everyone is taxed just because they are alive and breathing.

I just want to make one thing perfectly clear to those reading this column: Obamacare has nothing to do with health care reform. It is health insurance reform, which is something quite different than health care reform. If we were really interested in reforming the health care system, people would have concentrated on what drives up the cost of health care and why.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces everyone to purchase health insurance in hopes of bringing down premiums. Good luck on that one. I predict that insurance premiums will continue to skyrocket because no one wants to focus on the underlying issues that are causing health care costs to escalate.

And that’s because it’s a lot tougher nut to crack than making everyone buy into a broken system. Heck, in this case they just had to have the votes to ram it through Congress and hope that the Supreme Court would call it what it was — a tax.

If we really want to get serious about reforming health care, we need to get the health professionals, the politicians and regular citizens in a room without the media around and get down to the nitty-gritty of what needs to be done in a spirit of bipartisanship. Yeah, like that is going to happen.

The last two years of bickering are a walk in the park compared with that scenario. So, instead of getting to the root of the problem, we are just going to continue to mask the symptoms with painkillers until the patient finally dies.

So, where does all this leave us? We are going to have two distinct choices when we decide how to vote in November. On one hand is the status quo, which means Obamacare will proceed as planned. The other choice is to repeal and plot another course. I say plot another course because we can no longer hide our heads in the sand like an ostrich and pretend that the problems with health care will go away.

Many pundits have seen this crisis coming for years. But no one in Washington seems to want to tackle problems until they reach crisis mode and even then, the response is often wrong — as is the case, in my mind, with Obamacare.

So, if the American people decide that they want to go a different path than the one we are now on, the new leaders need to be ready to do more than just say “no.” They need to get all the folks I identified earlier in a room and not let them leave until the problems are at least identified. Then we will know what we are facing. That’s called leadership.

Kevin Wilson, a former state representative, lives in Neosho.