Play … or Pay

When Erika Smith got pregnant, her husband was self-employed rehabbing old buildings, and they couldn't afford health insurance. So when she had her baby, Erika went to a hospital funded by the city of St. Louis. And didn't pay a cent. Erika's story is not unique. For most uninsured people, medical help is available free or at reduced cost through clinics and hospitals funded by the government or by private philanthropy. But for some politicians, that's not enough. They want to see the federal government set up some new bureaucratic program for America's 35 million uninsured people. One of the ideas being circulated is government-run health insurance--something I talked about on yesterday's program. But most Americans--59 percent, according to a recent survey--prefer being able to choose among private insurance plans. So some politicians have proposed a different approach. They want a law that requires businesses to provide insurance for their employees. Otherwise, they'll be charged a stiff new tax, which the government will use to cover people who are uninsured. The plan is called Play or Pay: play the game--or pay the tax. The plan is deceptively attractive. Politicians boast that it won't cost the government a dime. People who can't afford health care will be taken care of--without raising taxes. But we all know you don't get something for nothing. Someone has to pay for it. Play or Pay doesn't solve the problem of rising health care costs, it merely shifts those costs to businesses and corporations. And when businesses pay, we all pay. Why? Well, to fund the plan, businesses will have to save money somewhere else. That generally means they will have to lay off some of their employees. Which in turn swells the ranks of the uninsured--the very problem this plan is supposed to solve. And when they've laid off everyone they can, businesses will pass on their remaining costs to the rest of us by charging higher prices for goods and services. Which also swells the ranks of the uninsured--because when everyday expenses cost more, people have less money to spend on health insurance. So no matter how you look at it, Play or Pay will actually make the problem worse. But the most disturbing thing about the plan is the deceptive way it's being sold to the public. We all know that the federal government is running out of money--that it would be suicidal to start any new and costly programs, like national health insurance. So politicians have come up with a backdoor way to accomplish the same thing. If there's no money in the national treasury to spend, just pass a law requiring other people to spend their money--in this case, businesses. And ultimately we all pay, through lost jobs and higher prices. Christians see the government as a public trust. To honor that trust, government officials have to be honest with the people they represent. Now, we ought to ensure that everyone in this country who needs health care gets it. But let's also be honest about where how much it costs and who's paying for it. And that's what's wrong with Play or Pay: It's not just a bad health plan. It's dishonest government.


Chuck Colson



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