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Signing away health care freedom
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Georgia’s Democratic Party is asking Georgians to sign its petition asking the state’s two senators to “support President Obama’s health care reform proposals, even if it means standing up to Republican leaders like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney.” Pray it ain’t so.

To reinforce their plea, the petition to appeal for “affordable” health care for millions of Georgians contains some “facts” on health care in Georgia. In fact, they show how proponents of Obama’s health care “reform” are playing fast and loose with the facts to further the cause of universal health care.

The “facts,” as they pertain to Georgia:

• Approximately 1.6 million Georgians don’t have health insurance today.
• More than one in three Georgians (2.9 million) were without health insurance for all or part of the two-year period from 2007-08.
• 42.2 percent of African-Americans and 66.2 percent of Latinos in Georgia were uninsured for all or part of the period between 2007 and 2008.
• Over 95 percent of adult Georgians without health insurance were either employed or actively looking for work; 78.7 percent were working full or part time.

First, “today” is the keyword in the first “fact.” As the Census Bureau’s survey released in August 2008 explains, “People were considered ‘insured’ if they were covered by any type of health insurance for part or all of the previous calendar year. They were considered ‘uninsured’ if they were not covered by any type of health insurance at any time in that year.” In fact, the survey points out that the estimate “more closely approximates the number of people who are uninsured at a specific point in time during the year than the number of people uninsured for the entire year.”

People changing or between jobs may have been uninsured for as little as a week or a month, and may not view it as a problem at all. Many of the 1.6 million Georgians who don’t have health insurance “today” may well have had it yesterday and have it again tomorrow.  
Second, according to the Census Bureau, 9.7 million of the nation’s 45.6 million uninsured are not U.S. citizens. (There is no breakdown of how many non-citizens are illegal immigrants, or how many of the 66 percent of uninsured Latinos in Georgia are illegal immigrants.) Third, 17.5 million of the nation’s uninsured are in households earning at least $50,000 and 9 million of those are in households earning at least $75,000. And last, the 1.6 million Georgians without health insurance (“at any time in that year”) represent about 18 percent of Georgia’s population.  

According to Foundation Senior Fellow Ronald Bachman and the Georgia Uninsured Work Group, 30 percent of Georgia’s uninsured don’t need financial assistance in obtaining insurance. In other words, they can afford it but choose to spend their money on other things. Another 35 percent need some financial help in obtaining insurance. Twenty percent of the uninsured are eligible for government programs. Just 15 percent of those without health insurance are “uninsurable.”  

Why implement a costly universal “individual” mandate that needlessly impacts the covered 82 percent of Georgians who already have access to health care, hiking the cost of living for everyone, when the target should be the true uninsured and uninsurable? How does President Obama plan to monitor whether individual Americans — and non-Americans — are complying with a mandate to have health insurance? And how are employers expected to find the funds for mandatory coverage of their workers in a time of economic crisis?

There are numerous solutions for many Georgians without insurance to obtain coverage that involve the private sector. But it requires a mandate on government — to step aside instead of intervening in, regulating, rationing or otherwise taking over individuals’ health care. Actively publicizing health savings accounts (HSAs) is one option. Individually owned, portable health insurance with HSAs can make insurance attractive and affordable to many uninsured low- and middle-income working families. Free clinics staffed by volunteers are another. Allowing consumers to shop out-of-state for an affordable plan is another. Eliminating government mandates on health coverage is another.  

None of this dismisses the moral obligation to help fellow citizens who are truly in need. But the wholesale leap from nanny government to nurse government is a scary and un-American prospect that, while it may increase coverage, will limit choices, harm quality, hinder innovation and hurt taxpayers.  

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.