Obamacare Champions Personal Responsibility. the States That Hate It Don't. (+Video)

By Frankel, Jeffrey | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

Obamacare Champions Personal Responsibility. the States That Hate It Don't. (+Video)


Frankel, Jeffrey, The Christian Science Monitor


Politicians, particularly Republican candidates, among them Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, like to emphasize the importance of individual responsibility especially in railing against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Indeed, America was founded by individuals working hard to earn rewards rather than free- riding on the wealth of society.

At the Democratic National Convention this week, Democrats have defended and reclaimed Obamacare as one of President Obamas signature achievements. (See Bill Clintons rousing endorsement last night.) But some Americans seem to be under the impression that the health-care law is a step away from personal responsibility, a step toward socialized medicine. Thats certainly the message they got from the Republican National Convention last week.

As knowledgeable columnists and health-care experts have pointed out, the opposite is the case. It is the pre-Obamacare system that involves free-riding: A patient who shows up in the emergency room is treated even if uninsured, but the hospital has to pass the cost on to the rest of us.

The abdication of personal responsibility is especially great to the extent that the medical community can attribute health afflictions to such risk factors as being overweight. (According to recent studies, every obese American adds 42 percent to medical costs, relative to those of normal weight.)

Obesity can sometimes be attributed to poor diet, lack of exercise, or other personal behavior. But researchers find it can also be genetic. Individuals with such risk factors or pre-existing conditions may not be able to get private insurance under the pre- Obamacare system even if they dont want to be free riders. The private health insurance plans often exclude them. In such a system, personal responsibility is sorely absent.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 was designed to solve this problem, with its individual mandate and its prohibition on excluding customers based on pre-existing conditions. Establishing personal responsibility is the reason why conservative think tanks proposed the idea of the individual mandate in the first place, and why Mitt Romney approved it as part of the health-care law enacted in Massachusetts.

All this has been said many times, of course. But new analysis exposes another disconnect between rhetoric and reality when it comes to personal responsibility in health care:

The states opposing Obamacare are the states where people are least likely to take personal responsibility for their health in their daily behavior.

Members of Congress from states with high incidences of obesity, poor eating habits, and poor exercise habits are much more likely to have voted against the health-care reform; those from states that rank high on physical fitness voted for it. …

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