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A chance to work ... or fail

Jul 5, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Court ruling raises possibility that 'Obamacare' might be given an actual test in marketplace

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week upholding the constitutionality of President Obama's health care reform law has increased the likelihood of an intriguing possibility: that the law actually might be given the chance to go into effect so that the country could render an informed opinion on its worth.

The term "informed opinion" is important because it's apparent that the U.S. public has little understanding of what the law includes, requires and costs -- and there is a feeling that both the proponents and opponents of the law, nicknamed "Obamacare," are perfectly OK with that.

The language used to describe it in the unending political struggle, first in Congress and later in the courts, used the broadest possible generalities intended, it seems, not to inform but to deceive.

"Government takeover." "Affordable care." "Death panels." "Coverage for everyone." These are among the most popular bumper-sticker phrases being applied to the law from both sides. But not one of them actually fits the plan.

Private insurance companies, not the government, still would dominate health care coverage.

The word "affordable" is best used in describing the anticipated effect on the national deficit -- which is projected to be reduced under Obamacare -- than it does to Mr. and Mrs. Main Street, whose individual health care coverage very well could cost more.

Making sure elderly or ill patients and their families get consistent, informed opinions about their long-term health options -- and which treatments would be covered -- is a characteristic of the plan. That's a far cry from a government panel deciding who lives or dies.

Not "everyone" would be covered under Obamacare. It would ensure that millions more Americans do have health care coverage, but it does not guarantee coverage for all. For one thing, small businesses would not be required to cover their workers -- and most of them wouldn't, because they couldn't afford to.

And every state in the union has the chance to opt out of the program if it can come up with a workable alternative of its own. Wyoming is one of the states vowing to do just that.

The full implementation of Obamacare is a frightening prospect to some Americans, and an uncertain one even for the supporters. It is big, complicated, expensive, controversial and unpredictable. It might not work, which would hand its opponents a victory that no Senate vote or Supreme Court ruling ever could.

But repealing it or defunding it just as it is about to be given a true road test also is an unnerving prospect, if for no other reason than this: The need for comprehensive health care reform is very real, and growing daily. As the U.S. population continues to get older -- and, by default, sicker -- existing health-insurance practices, procedures and expenses will prove to be unacceptable. For many, they already are.

A solution is imperative. The nation needs an answer. A law has been passed and upheld in court. The most charitable word possible to describe it would be "imperfect." But that word also describes every piece of federal legislation ever created.

With the presidential election four months away, the debate over Obamacare will be carried on at full boil. As it goes on, it is reasonable to weigh whether that debate ought to ask if giving the law a chance to work -- or fail -- might be a good idea.

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