The Freedom Caucus threw a wrench in the Republican plans to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Obamacare-lite, the AHCA. President Trump has called them out on it. But I stand with the Freedom Caucus because they understand what freedom means.
Karen Turner at Vox did an interview with Sherri Underwood, a Trump supporter. For her the biggest issue of the campaign was health care, and she voted for Trump because she expected that he would replace Obamacare with an even better plan that would increase coverage with less complexity, lower deductibles, and smaller copays. The AHCA did none of those things. But neither was it freedom.
While the Freedom Caucus got called out for blocking passage of the AHCA, it was also Republican moderates who stood in the way. They latched on to the CBO scoring that indicated 24 million Americans would lose coverage, and that deductibles and copays would actually rise. Fearful of offending their constituents, they, too opposed the AHCA. But their opposition was not because of a preference for freedom.
Michael Millenson, in an article at The Conversation, unfolds what freedom really means. He starts with a quote, “We are now contemplating, Heaven save the mark, a bill that would tax the well for the benefit of the ill.” This sounds remarkably like the quote from Speaker Paul Ryan, “The idea of Obamacare is that the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick.” The first quote, from a 1949 editorial in the New York State Journal of Medicine denounces the very idea of health insurance. For the writer, health insurance means a pooling of risks with other individuals, which leaves individuals with little incentive to accept personal responsibility.
Jason Chaffetz, Republican representative from Utah, got into a small brouhaha when he accused low-income Americans of refusing to make proper choices, spending on iPhones rather than their own health care. He stepped back his comments, seemingly for political expediency, when confronted with the fact that the AHCA would raise the cost of health insurance for a 64-year-old with an income of $26,500 from $1,700 to $14,600, slightly more than the annual cost of an iPhone. Nonetheless, Chaffetz was correct in prioritizing personal responsibility as the foundation of the freedom we cherish.
The 1949 editorial that Millenson quotes in his article goes on to note that patients who have to pay out of their pockets for health care might ration their visits to the doctor, and that this might result in missing early detection of diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer. Nonetheless, with the courage of his convictions, he states, “Is it not better that a few such should perish rather than that the majority of the population should be encouraged on every occasion to run sniveling to the doctor?”
The 1949 editorial ends with the ultimate encomium to the freedom our Founding Fathers created for us, “The Declaration of Independence said that man was entitled to the ‘pursuit of happiness.’ Any man who wishes to pursue happiness had better be able to stand on his own feet. He will not be successful if he feels that he can afford to be ill.”
Most in America have deflected love of freedom as they have embraced being taken care of by big government. But some Americans have retained their perspective. Tom Coburn, who was senator from Oklahoma at the time, told a sobbing woman who couldn’t afford care for her brain-injured husband, that “government is not the answer.” It is not the job of government to care for its citizenry, it is the job of government to stand aside so individuals can exercise their freedom. Ron Paul, at the time representative from Texas, doubled down. What an uninsured man in a coma “should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risk.” Michael Strain put it somewhat more philosophically in a 2015 editorial in the Washington Post, “In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals – including…less government coercion and more individual liberty.”
Members of the Freedom Caucus understand that the purpose of government is more to enhance the freedom of individuals, and less to concern itself with promoting the general welfare. This is the foundation on which our Constitution rests, and the reason why, in the recent imbroglio over health care, I stand with the Freedom Caucus.