Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Soak the Rich?

In a July 15, 2009 editorial "Soak the Rich, " Tom Patton argues:
I used to want to be rich. Really. It seemed like such a pleasant way to spend my latter years. Denny Crane is something of a role model, at least as far as a scotch and a cigar on a high rise balcony with a good friend. Or even just in the back yard. It seemed to be something to aspire to.

But today in the WaPo online, is news of a plan that’s been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would ask the wealthiest 2 million people to fund health care for everyone.

“House Democrats yesterday unveiled a plan that would force the richest 2 million U.S. taxpayers to shoulder much of the cost of an expansion of the nation’s health-care system, agreeing on a provision to impose a surtax of as much as 5.4 percent on those making more than $1 million a year.”

Still want to join that club? Yeah, me too. But when did success become a stigma?

There are some 300 million people in the U.S., and according to the Post, there are some 37 million without health insurance of some kind … usually provided by their employer … so a touch over 10 percent.

About what’s unemployed right now. Any crossover there, you think?

But it’s not just the millionaires. The health care surtax would start on individuals earning $280,000, and families with income above $350,000. Still out of my league, but at least that might someday be in reach. Of course, if executive salaries wind up being controlled by Washington, then it’ll just be the television, movie and rock stars who wind up paying the surtaxes anyway. And they should be happy to do so since, for most of them, their guy won … yes?

Senators seem to understand this a bit better, since WaPo reports they have pretty much abandoned the blatant “soak the rich” mantra for one that spreads the responsibility a bit more, but it’s still there and even staunch Democrats admit it’s a “tough sell.”

Could those people afford to pay the surtax without feeling too much of a pinch? Maybe, but is that the point? Most people admit that some taxes are necessary, and that access to health care should not be the purview of a few. But the alternative plan floated during the election of providing a tax credit to allow people to shop for health insurance in an open market sure didn’t get any traction, and the word “bipartisan” hasn’t had a lot of meaning in DC for a long time. So one shouldn’t hold one’s breath waiting for both sides to come together and sing “Kum-By-Ya” anytime soon. The Democrats are in charge, and they’re likely to try to make big changes in the way health care is delivered, and paid for, in this country.

But when you scratch below the surface, it seems that “single payer”, when it comes to a government program anyway, is something of an oxymoron. In this instance, the Government isn’t a single payer, it’s a moneychanger. And for health insurance, it will apparently be moving money from those people making more than $280,000 to shareholders in insurance companies who are in the business of … making money. They’re a legitimate, for-profit business. That is unless you think insurance companies are going to sit still while the government guts their profit lines. It might happen, but you’ll want to pop a big bag of popcorn to watch that spectacle.

The way our health system is structured now, we all need some kind of insurance. Fee for service is just not really feasible for most of us. But while Americans said they were voting for “change”, where the rubber will meet the road is when that “change” affects you. That’s not to say that its bad, or that it’s not coming. Change is difficult, usually slow to come, and often the ultimate consequences are not felt for years to come. This is a time for restraint, because it needs to be done right the first time. I’m pretty sure a knee-jerk “soak the rich” scheme is not the best way to approach it. It might make a pretty sound bite, but it’s very possibly very bad policy.

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