Eugene Robinson Live

Sep 24, 2013

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, and welcome to The Week of Living Insanely. That's what it is here in Washington, at least. Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, are going through the motions of an Alamo-style last stand to keep millions of Americans from getting health insurance. But those same Republicans are angrier at Cruz than at President Obama and the Democrats, who are playing the role of the Mexican army. Speaker John Boehner's only idea for avoiding this senseless crisis is to promise an even bigger senseless crisis a few weeks from now. Instead of warning young people not to drink and drive, ads sponsored by right-wing groups now warn them not to buy health insurance. None of this is remotely necessary, but here we go. Let's get started.

In case nobody has told you, even the labor unions are rebelling against this monstrosity. Combine that with all the other snafus - hidden taxes, unfair exemptions, delays in implementation - and it is becoming clear that Obamacare is going to be a trainwreck. Snarl all you want at the GOP for fighting this, but I am thankful they are putting up a fight.

They put up a fight in Congress, but they lost. They put up a fight in the last election, with Obamacare a major issue, but they lost. They put up a fight at the Supreme Court, but they lost. Obamacare is the law. f we find it doesn't work, we can fix it. But it's the law. Snarl.

Mr. Robinson, I have many reservations about the ACA as written and believe it will end up costing a lot more than promised (though that it isn't a reason not to do it), but of one thing I am absolutely certain is that it will be a bureaucratic nightmare. I base this on 23 years in the military health care system and going on three in the VA system, not to mention dealing with the IRS. If you're trying to tell us the ACA will be the one case where the federal government will all of sudden be efficient, you're not being honest with either us or yourself. As for your contention that the American people "will actually like it," I imagine it will be like the military. I almost never saw the same doctor twice in a row, had and have to wait months for appointments, and just generally felt like a number. Yes, it's better than nothing, but that's not much of a standard.

There is nothing in the Affordable Care Act that says you won't see the same doctor twice in a row. That's just nuts, and a complete misrepresentation of what the law is. Obamacare is not a single-payer national health system such as in Britain (where, incidentally, I lived for a couple of years and saw the same neighborhood doctor regularly). No one will feel more like a number than he or she feels now. In my opinion, the health system as is constitutes a bureaucratic nightmare. Maybe that won't improve, but I sincerely doubt it will get any worse.

Why did congress pass an exception for themselves?

This is a total canard. If Congress had said nothing in the bill about itself, it would have continued with the exact same health insurance it has now, with no change or interruption. As is the case for most people with insurance through their employer. The federal government would have continued to subsidize Congress's health insurance plans, as most employers do. But Congress insisted that if some Americans had to rely on the new insurance exchanges, Congress should have to do so as well. So Congress is now trying to figure out ways to have the same insurance coverage and benefits it has now -- WHICH IT COULD AND SHOULD HAVE HAD UNDER THE LAW. 

As opposed to the current health-insurance system?

As I said. I don't know about you, but I have a so-called Cadillac health plan through my employer, which genuinely wants to offer good coverage. It seems like costs go up all the time, deductibles get recalculated, new procedures and requirements get added, the insurance company goes through good moods and bad moods. When I fill a prescription, the amount I pay seems to vary pretty much at random -- for the same medication. Does anybody have a different experience? 

Suddenly the Republicans can't seem to distance themselves fast enough from Sen. Cruz. If he's no longer a player, what happens next? Are we finally having the family fight within the Republican Party that's been talked about so long?

Sen. Ted Cruz will be a playa for quite some time, I think. He has raised his national profile and probably won the hearts of many GOP primary voters in early states such as Iowa and South Carolina. All this was at the expense of his party, but I get the feeling he sleeps peacefully at night, perhaps with a satisfied smile. In the end, he will blame all the RINO quislings for going weak in the knees. 

Your second questioner's comments illustrate how clueless the opposition to Obamacare really is. Essentially, the new law just requires everyone to buy health insurance and requires health insurance companies to cover everyone with preexisting conditions, which makes a lot more business for health insurance companies. (That's why they are for it.) The requirement that everyone buy health insurance makes it possible for health insurance companies to remain profitable in light of the requirement that they insure preexisting conditions.

Thank you. I don't get what is so hard to understand about this simple concept. Republicans feign ignorance, but really they understand perfectly. That's why they are so eager to discourage younger, relatively healthy people from buying insurance -- which will keep average costs down. They are actively trying to sabotage the law -- and make premiums rise -- by warning young people against the evils of health insurance. I'd like to see one GOP congressman advise his or her young son or daughter to go without insurance. Perhaps someone like Darrell Issa, who's worth several hundred million dollars, figures he can cover any family medical costs out of pocket.

But will these same right-wing groups pay those young people's medical bills if they become ill or injured while uninsured? Didn't think so. (In my fantasies, such uninsured young patients would sue those organizations for having influenced them unduly).

Exactly. It's the height of irresponsibility. Breathtaking.

Is any publicity really good publicity? Unsure about that since Calgary Cruz (a nickname his Republican started in Texas which he HATES) has certainly gotten a lot press, but is it really good for his national ambitions?

Calgary Cruz! I love it. I may have to steal it; I'll look up the origin and give proper credit, of course. In the larger sense, being so far out on the right-wing fringe has not been a path to the presidency. It helps with Iowa caucus-goers, but not with the independents who decide elections. In the current GQ profile of Cruz, Sen. Chuck Grassley is asked to recall any first-term senator who came in with such a brash, elbows-out style and he could only think of the stories he had read about Barry Goldwater. We all know how his run for president turned out.

Seems that everyone I know with "good" health insurance (fed employees especially) are totally against ACA. All I know is that I, self-employed 50-something, my sons, 20-something small business owners, and my sister, unemployed single mom, all have difficulty today buying/affording health insurance. My son had a lung operation this summer and now owes almost $10,000 for 2 days in the hospital. So to all the nay-sayers - it's great that you're ok, but stop trying to take away something the rest of us desperately need.

Thank you. There were 48 million uninsured last year, according to the Census Bureau. These aren't the poorest of the poor, who are covered by Medicaid. These are people who just can't afford insurance or can't obtain it because of preexisting conditions. For many of these people, Obamacare will be a godsend.

Mr. Robinson: We must never shutdown our government. We are a western nation and a shutdown harms democracy. We must impeach President Obama for two significant reasons. First, Obamacare is like insurance and government does not permit insurance. Obama promised universal health care, but we have Obamacare, which is less than what he promised on the campaign trail. Obamacare is fraud. Second, we must hold President Obama accountable for the $700 BILLION stimulus package. There is chronic high unemployment and record high poverty levels. A government study found that it takes only $3 billion to end unemployment. It appears that this money was taken or stolen. We must determine what happened to $700 billion. Do you think we can impeach President Obama for these two reasons?

Since both houses of Congress passed both Obamacare and the stimulus bill, Congress will have to start by impeaching itself.

Your guy said nobody would lose his or her healthcare, and you could keep on seeing the same doctor. What about the thousands of employees whose hours are being cut and then thrown into the new system? They have lost what they had, and the new doctors may well not be the same as their old ones. And what about businesses cutting jobs entirely as a result of Obamacare. And, please, don't try to say you haven't seen those announcements as Jay Carney tries to say.

I've seen them. But take a look at the quality of insurance being offered by companies that are willing to take such a callous approach. I will wager that many, if not most of those employees will find a selection of better insurance plans through the exchanges than those offered by cheapskate employers.

One of your audience members posted a question in which they brought up the idea that the federal government is inefficient. Why do people consistently throw this around? Have you ever gone to a hospital and had a surgery? What did your bill look like? Talk about inefficiency. Here is how some private companies brag about being efficient--they pay their employees crap and provide little if any benefits (except for the top brass). I'm not say the federal government can't do better, but I'm getting tired of hearing that they basically suck. I know many many people who work for the federal government who are hard working caring individuals (and smart too).

I agree. The ritual bashing of the federal workforce is simply unfair. It's a cheap thrill for politicians who should know better.

Will Virginia's wackadoodle candidate for Lt. Governor pull Ken Cuccinelli down with him? Was his latest screed, against non-Christians, the final straw?

E.W. Jackson is proving to be the loosest of cannons. His latest pronouncement was that all non-Christians are following some kind of "false religion," which will not go over well in what is an increasingly diverse and tolerant state. But Cuccinelli's bigger problem may be his association with the same businessman who gave generous gifts to Gov. McDonnell. The GOP plan was to attack Terry McAuliffe on the ethics issue, but if that ends up being essentially a wash, focus turns to Cuccinelli's extreme positions on abortion and other social issues. That's unfavorable terrain for him.

I'd like to see more discussion of how much government uncertainty/wavering costs. The contingency plans alone for the government shutdown must cost many millions. Not knowing when the ACA will happen or what the exact rules will be costs a lot. Uncertainty over the debt limit fight is costing consumers in the form of higher interest rates. The ACA isn't perfect, but the train's been coming down the track for a long time, so it's time to hop on and make course corrections.

The uncertainty is costly, but what the government has to spend is nothing compared to what's going to happen to our 401K's and the shaky economic recovery if the GOP follows through on its threats to shut down the government and/or cause a default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And it's totally unnecessary. You would think the patriotic thing to do would be to make the implementation of Obamacare go as smoothly as possible -- not threaten to pull down the house.

Would anything from the President's recent gun control proposals have prevented the Navy Yard shootings? Alexis purchased a pretty typical hunting shotgun after passing a background check from a licensed dealer (who denied Alexis's request for a handgun). This seems like the kind of violence any society with any amount of gun ownership will have to tolerate.

Nothing can prevent the last mass shooting, but sensible gun control might prevent the next. And your last statement is just wrong. Britain, where I lived, has gun ownership. Argentina, where I lived, has gun ownership. Yet it's only in the United States that these mass shootings are regular occurrences. Elsewhere they are rare. There are violent video games everywhere. There is mental illness everywhere. What's different about this country is that there are so many guns, so freely available.

So this great new ACA is going to save the world. But how will people pay for it? My spouse just had her hours cut below 30 hours so now she's part time and doesn't quality for her employers health plan. Now I'm going to have to eat that extra cost or else get penalized for not having insurance. Unless the goal of course is to make us all poor and have to rely on the government like people in the ghettos

There are subsidies for people who need them. Presumably your wife contributes to her insurance premium currently. Factor that money into what a plan costs through one of the exchanges. Maybe there will be a difference. Maybe you will find the exchange-sponsored plan better.

Shouldn't the NRA logically support the ACA? After all, the NRA is saying it wants more attention paid to mental illness, and wouldn't the ACA provide for more treatment for the mentally ill?

Of course. The ACA is the biggest expansion of mental health care in decades.So why don't the people who say that's the problem with mass shootings support Obamacare?


That's all for today, folks. My time is up. See you again next week, if the sky doesn't fall.

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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