Students debate utility, sincerity and ethics of health reform

    The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 have stirred up considerable drama and debate among the public, including members of the College of William and Mary community. Presented here are perspectives from two politically active students, Thomas Chappell ’11 and Beau Wright ’11. Chappell serves as the President of the College Republicans, and Wright has worked with the Young Democrats and several political organizations in his hometown of Lynchburg, Va.

    What’s the most important thing about the health care package that students may not know about?

    Chappell: I think many students do not realize how much power that the federal government is taking away from private citizens through the insurance mandate provision in the bill, or what some have called “a tax on living.” If this bill withstands legal challenges from at least a dozen attorneys general on this issue, the federal government would, for the first time in history, have the power to force every American citizen to purchase a private good — health insurance — whether they want to or not, under penalty of law. A similar provision has been used on the state level regarding auto insurance, but the differences are that driving is a privilege that you can choose not to take advantage of, and that these policies are created and enforced by state governments, which have more leeway to create such mandates. The new power, hypothetically, can be used to do such things as force Americans to subscribe to a newspaper to revive the struggling newspaper industry or to force all Americans to buy a firearm if Congress believes that we do not have enough guns in our society. This is a dangerous precedent.

    Wright: What college students may not know about health care reform is that they can now receive coverage under family plans until the age of 26. Additionally, the new law does away with insurance denial on the basis of pre-existing conditions like asthma or a previous heart attack, which have applied to millions of Americans.

    Tom, I think you’re carrying the individual mandate to an illogical conclusion. An individual mandate is necessary if health reform is to be in any way cost effective. Consider the health care system pre-health reform. Americans are already paying for the uninsured of America, who tragically can’t afford most emergency services, while simultaneously getting fleeced by the health insurance industry. Meanwhile, tax credits and other subsidies would be available for those who can’t afford to pay for health insurance. As a side note, an individual mandate was endorsed by many prominent Republicans only last year when it was proposed as the Wyden-Bennett alternative, named for a Democratic and a Republican senator. Many economists recognize the need for a mandate if health reform is to work properly. The idea that the government will require you to buy a gun or to buy a newspaper is nonsense.

    Chappell: If a policy requires the breach of individual liberty in order for it to work, as in this case, then we should simply create an alternative policy. I guarantee you that, if this stands, health insurance will not be the last private good that government tries to make all Americans buy under threat of prosecution.

    Does the health bill’s legislative process offer hopes for bipartisanship?

    Wright: The process was bipartisan, as the final legislation contained several hundred Republican amendments. Nevertheless, Republicans, bowing to the pressure of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party movement, refused to even work with Democrats, railing about how the bill was being crammed down the throats of Americans. Is a year of debate really cramming? Are decades of debate on health care cramming?

    Chappell: Yes, President Barack Obama appeared to pay lip service to Republicans at the health care summit, but the attempts at bipartisanship in support of the bill ended there. In fact, the only bipartisanship in Congress was against the bill, as 34 Democrats joined all of the Republicans in opposing it in the House of Representatives.

    Wright: As polls show, the overwhelming majority of the American people wanted health care reform. By the way, President Richard Nixon, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and notable other conservatives endorsed just such a plan as was passed last week. The American people have waited long enough for health care reform. I remind the Republicans that they did nothing during their six years in the majority to tackle rising health care costs.

    Chappell: According to Rasmussen Report, 55 percent of voters and 59 percent of independents polled after the bill was passed responded that they want the bill repealed. Yes, Americans want their health care reformed, but they do not approve of a bill that increases government power, raises the amount paid out-of-pocket in taxes and costs by the average citizen and, when questionable accounting practices are removed, raises the federal deficit.

    What will be the political ramifications of this bill?

    Chappell: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi may believe that this bill is her “Gift for the American people,” but Americans know that this is a gift that has to be paid for with many strings attached. I think we will see that Americans will look to return this gift and all that comes with it in November. Look for big Republican gains.

    Wright: Democrats may very possibly lose seats, especially those from swing districts. But now the Democrats have seven months to explain to their constituents why passing health care reform was the right thing to do. Republicans, on the other hand, have the unenviable task of arguing for taking away people’s newly-granted benefits. They are, and will continue to be, the party of no.

    E-mail Beau Wright at and Thomas Chappell at


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