Opinion from Bob Nicholson on November 22, 2013 at 3:04 PM
Greetings from rural Udumalpet, India. Business gives me the opportunity to get to know people and cultures all over the world. It reinforces the importance of international cooperation and trade. What happens in other countries really does affect us in Alabama; we have an economic stake in their success. Travel also helps to remind me of how blessed I am to have been born in the USA. We take for granted things that many other people can only dream of. Sitting here, I fully understand the truth of the cliché “first world problems.”
It also helps me to appreciate the government that we have. Warts and all, our local, state and federal government somehow manages to be less wasteful, less corrupt and more effective than most. No one can deny our problems, but to the many who now think that government can’t get anything right, you are wrong. Continuing a theme from a previous column, you have bought the myth.
How many times did your power go out in the last hour? Here in India, we’ve had power drop at least a dozen times. TVA, an entity created by the federal government, provides most of the Tennessee Valley with reliable electricity. Alabama Power, regulated by state government (loosely) provides reliable power to most of the rest of the state. You drive on roads built and maintained by all levels of government working together. Did you drink any clean water from your tap or flush your toilet today? Most of our water and sewer services are provided by municipal utilities. These are things that are easy to take for granted until you don’t have them.
My father attended college thanks to GI bill, a program still helping veterans today. I’d be willing to bet that quite a few of NASA’s alumni here in Huntsville were World War II and Korean War veterans educated that way as well. Did you hear the news this week that the number of homeless veterans has dropped 24 percent over the last six years? That’s despite the recession and thanks to Rapid-Rehousing, a program managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perhaps those of you who lean Libertarian would rather these veterans remain on the street waiting for a private-sector solution. I’d rather have veterans not be homeless.
Sent any emails lately or surfed the Internet? No private company would have taken the risk of creating the Internet, but our government saw value where there was none. Although it was originally a Defense Department project, the US government had the wisdom to allow the public to have access. The Centers for Disease Control, NASA, and the National Weather Service are all federal agencies. On the whole, they do a good job. If you expect perfection in government, go find some agency that humans are not involved in.
Which brings us, of course, to the terrible rollout of Healtcare.gov. Let’s back up a bit and remember why the bill was passed. Millions of your fellow citizens live one illness away from bankruptcy, and medical bills, not lavish lifestyles, are the biggest cause of individual bankruptcies in the country. Insurance companies abused pre-existing condition rules, gorged on excess profits and sold many policies in the individual market that had so many exclusions they were essentially worthless. When Democrats wrote the Affordable Care Act, they based it on a plan created by the conservative Heritage Foundation (published in 1989) to try to attract Republican votes. They were naïve to believe that Republicans would continue to support this plan if the president embraced it; the plan passed with no Republican support.
The plan contains several provisions that Republicans should embrace. The Independent Patient Advisory Board exists to find cost-savings and to determine which treatments are effective and which are not. Cutting waste like this used to be a bipartisan objective, but that was before Obama became president. The individual mandate exists to prevent people from delaying coverage until they are already sick, thus freeloading off of the system. This requirement to accept individual responsibility for your own care was also a Republican rally cry – but now these same people call it government tyranny.
Yes, the rollout was botched. But I have a response to those who say it can’t be fixed, who say that the bill is unworkable. I grew up in Huntsville. I grew up in a town where the impossible became reality when a man landed on the moon. The space program experienced failure and setbacks, but no one ever seriously talked about quitting. They assessed the situation, planned and tested solutions and made it right. When someone says they can’t fix health care, what they really mean is that they choose not to. When they say we can’t afford it, what they mean is that they are not motivated to try; their priorities do not lie in making people’s lives better. We are smart enough to figure this out, and this was a common goal before politics intervened.
If you still complain about government tyranny, please, take a vacation in Somalia or Haiti. There, you’ll find out what it means to live without big brother; you’ll find what it is to be truly free. Once you get home, perhaps we can start to work together to find common ground. We can make things better together, but you have to want to try.
Bob Nicholson is a certified public accountant who lives in Huntsville and works in corporate finance.