'Me' not 'we': Here's how far-right arguments against social distancing mimic those against Obamacare

'Me' not 'we': Here's how far-right arguments against social distancing mimic those against Obamacare
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Personal Health

Far-right talk show host Glenn Beck is being slammed by everyone from liberals and progressives to Never Trump conservatives for his idiotic argument that if older Americans have to die from coronavirus, so be it — it’s better to end social distancing and get the U.S. economy back on track than to maintain social distancing and keep hurting the economy. Beck’s argument was not only morally bankrupt, but also, unscientific: coronavirus can kill younger Americans as well. Beck, however, is not alone in making such assertions, and journalist Ronald Brownstein — in an article for The Atlantic — notes the parallels between far-right arguments against social distancing in 2020 and far-right arguments made against the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, in the past.


“How much do the healthiest people in society owe to the most vulnerable?,” Brownstein writes in his article. “That question — about Americans’ capacity for shared sacrifice — was at the core of the struggle over repealing the Affordable Care Act during the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. Now, it’s resurfacing in the escalating partisan debate over responding to the coronavirus crisis.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, has made arguments against social distancing that are similar to Beck’s. In Patrick’s view, it’s wrong to tell younger Americans to refrain from working in order to protect older Americans from coronavirus — which is a ridiculous argument because even though coronavirus has killed thousands of older people around the world, it hasn’t signed an affidavit promising not to kill anyone under 50. People in their twenties and thirties have died from COVID-19 as well, and they can still become infected if they come into contact with those who have already been infected.

As Brownstein points out, one of the Republican arguments against Obamacare was that healthier Americans shouldn’t have to subsidize Americans with major health problems.

“Promoting the sharing of risk between the healthy and the sick was a preeminent goal of the ACA,” Brownstein notes. “Before the law, people with significant health needs were either charged much higher premiums for coverage in the individual-insurance market, or denied coverage altogether because they had a preexisting condition. Those rules benefited healthier people buying individual coverage: because those with greater needs were systematically excluded, insurers had to pay out fewer claims — allowing them to hold down premiums for everyone else.”

According to Sabrina Corlette, a researcher at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.,  there is clearly a parallel between arguments against mandatory social distancing and arguments against Obamacare.

“It absolutely is a parallel there,” Corlette told The Atlantic. “It’s very much about the social compact and how much cost do I have to incur to help my neighbor, who may be in greater need than I am?”

One of the strongest arguments in favor of universal health care has to do with communicable diseases: when the poor or the uninsured don’t receive the health care they need, they are more likely to pass diseases along to others. In other words, an uninsured American who has pneumonia is problematic for Americans in general — including those with health insurance — whether Republicans like it or not. But Republicans, as Brownstein observes, live in a world of “me” rather than “we” and reject the assertion that someone else’s wellbeing can affect their own wellbeing.

“It’s not too surprising to see Trump and other Republicans bridle against social distancing,” Brownstein writes. “Their complaints fit with the right’s long-standing unease about any policy that shares risk by imposing costs broadly.”

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