Freeloaders and Obamacare’s Individual Mandate: CNN’s Jake Tapper Weighs In

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Over the last several years, CNN “The Lead” host and former ABC News White House Correspondent Jake Tapper has gained a large fan base for holding the Obama Administration’s feet to the proverbial fire. However, on Wednesday, in an exchange with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) on the individual mandate, Tapper created a false dichotomy for his viewers that bears correcting.

In the interview (H/T to Mediaite), Tapper and the Senator had the following summarized exchange about why Republicans don’t support the mandate (the full transcript of the discussion can be found here):

“When did Republicans start saying, ‘That’s okay, you can freeload?’” Tapper pressed.

“I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of the Republican position on this at all,” Lee countered.

“If you’re against the individual mandate, or any sort of requirement that people have health insurance, then that is your position,” Tapper asserted.

The freeloader claim by Tapper parallels claims by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, who say that without the mandate, emergency rooms will continue to be burdened by so-called “freeloaders,” and costs for those with insurance will continue to shoot sky-high.

So how can Senator Lee and other opponents of Obamacare want the individual mandate gone and still claim we oppose freeloading off the system? Simple – articulate how the individual mandate isn’t solving the health care cost problem. It’s only the next step in a long line of government regulations that have created massive health care costs in America.

First and foremost, the individual mandate is unconstitutional, even if the Supreme Court disagrees. It violates the right of citizens to engage in free will contracts and punishes inaction as opposed to impacting pro-active choices.

On Twitter, Tapper noted the mandate used to be “a GOP argument about personal responsibility.” He’s right, but errors of principle by various conservatives a quarter century ago should not restrict today’s conservatives from holding consistent, constitutional principles.

Second, Tapper’s language indicates there are only two choices in medical policy – have a mandate or watch people “freeload.” Tapper intimated as much Thursday afternoon:

In fact, free care is not a medical principle. It is a government mandate that was forced on hospitals in a 1986 law mandating universal access to emergency room treatment. The individual mandate is not solving a real problem; it is a government solution to correct another government created problem.

Another inaccurate insinuation by Tapper in the interview is that all who enter hospitals without health insurance are freeloading. Tapper tweeted he was specifically referring to those who can afford health insurance but don’t buy it, then use emergency rooms and shift costs to others.

So then why is the mandate allegedly necessary? Supporters say it lowers costs. In reality, however, it is the last in a long chain of government interventions that have created the very crisis Obamacare was promoted to solve.

Consider that “between 1960 through 2009, the portion of U.S. healthcare expenses paid directly by consumers decreased from 48% to 12%.” In that same time period, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and many other federal health programs were created, and the WWII-era third-party tax incentives continued to thrive.  This has led to a health care cost growth from 1960 through 2009 that, according to the research group McKinsey, is nearly five times the period’s growth in GDP.

In other words, when consumers are separated from the cost of their care, health care costs go up dramatically. The opposite is also true, such as this patient whose surgery’s cost went from $20,000 to $3,000, and this doctor who cut prices in half by eliminating his acceptance of insurance. Other doctors have also made similar choices recently, and patient prices have steeply dropped as a result.

Free markets are long-standing laboratories of solutions, and healthcare is no different. By giving consumers choices, competition can solve many problems a government mandate claims to fix.

If there’s one thing Americans demand, it’s choice.