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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson on health law: Less spin, more facts

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:16 PM

Anne Overholt is 76 years old and lives with her 91-year-old husband at University Village retirement center near the University of South Florida. Anne volunteers as chairwoman of the health services committee, advocating for patients in need of nursing care. Some are her friends, so her work is deeply personal.

So there she was Thursday morning, watching the news like millions of others and waiting for word on how the Supreme Court would rule on President Barack Obama's health care plan. About 10 a.m., she learned that much of the health care act had been upheld by the Supremes.

She spent an hour digesting opinions from TV's pundits and blabbermouths, listening to the shouting and backtracking from the analysts before deciding, you know what? Enough of this.

"I had to turn the TV off," she said. "It was like, 'What is this all about?' I hate it. It's so hard for an everyday, down-to-earth person to understand, and I'm just a simple, retired, gray-haired lady. To tell you the truth, I don't know what's going to happen. We are being inundated with so much spin."

Whatever happens in the coming months before the election, where Republicans have vowed to do what the court wouldn't if they win, remember Anne Overholt. This isn't about Obama, or Mitt Romney, or red states or blue.

It's about people's basic right to proper medical care because that's what a civilized nation does. It doesn't use health care as a weapon or a political pawn because sick people don't ask for their doctor's party affiliation.

"You bet I can understand how she feels," Tampa Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said of Anne Overholt's frustration. "For a few years, this entire issue has been overly politicized. I urge people to do their own research on this and find out the facts."

I have a good place to start. If Sarah Palin ever opens her yap again about death panels that will put your grandma down, please stick a sock in it.

Going forward, this is a discussion for grownups, and no one is pretending it will be easy.

"I don't see any room for compromise," said Art Wood, head of Hillsborough County's Republican Party. "What this ruling says is that the government can now tax behavior, and we have never had anything like that in our history. Once you have crossed that line as a government, where you can tax behavior, there is no going back."

By taxing behavior, he means the plan's mandate that everyone buy insurance coverage. The key word in the court's ruling was "tax" — meaning, basically, the government needs to call the requirement of buying coverage what it is. We also have to pay taxes on Social Security and Medicare, but I also get the argument that this expands government's reach into our wallets.

"You should be able to make the choice not to buy in," Wood said, "but you should also be prepared to deal with the consequences of that."

Speaking of consequences, Florida could soon face a lot of those. Gov. Rick Scott and the leaders in the Legislature either turned down or refused to apply for millions in grants and Medicaid payments related to the health care law. That puts the state way behind on a lot of groundwork that needs to be completed before the law takes full effect in 2014.

"Actually, I think it's closer to a billion dollars," Castor said. "We're going to have to keep an eye on our governor as far as the implementation of this goes."

That's the way this thing has gone. Florida is on the front lines of rebellion against a law the Supreme Court basically upheld. Like it or not, the state can't just say it won't play. There are rules and they have to be followed.

This is more than just rules and politics. It's about people and health. It's about Anne Overholt and millions like her, people just trying to care for themselves and their loved ones. If this plan doesn't work like advocates say it will, then fix it down the road. As of now, it's the law, and people are tired of being scared and confused.


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