George Pyle: Reyes among those we should thank for Medicare for All

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes visits The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, Friday, September 23, 2016.

“'Twas a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it.”

W.C. Fields

It’s not the Democrats, or the Socialists, or the Democratic Socialists, who are going to get us to Medicare for All. It’s the Republicans, lead by their clueless commander in chief, with the eagerly irrational assistance of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

While other Utah politicians are arguing around the margins of the Affordable Care Act, and its attendant expansion of the Medicare program for low-income households, Reyes has signed the state’s name to a legal argument that, while derided as legally unsound and politically foolish by scholars and politicians up and down the spectrum, has won approval from one federal judge and, just the other day, the White House itself.

The argument is as convoluted as it is cruel and foolish. Basically it asserts that because Congress repealed the tax penalty for not meeting the individual mandate to have insurance, effectively ending that mandate, the whole rest of the Affordable Care Act is null and void.

So, according to a lawsuit led by the Republican attorney general of Texas, supported by Reyes and a handful of other GOP AGs, it’s all out. Coverage for pre-existing conditions. Keeping your children on a family plan until they are 26. Making insurance providers provide policies that aren’t expensive scams. All gone.

It was an argument, and a ruling, that was scoffed at by most legal scholars. Including a University of Michigan law professor whose credibility is either greatly enhanced or seriously diminished by the fact that he’s a nephew of Tribune political cartoonist Pat Bagley.

Even the White House was not thought to be on board. The official position there was that the individual mandate was bad but other things — such as the pre-existing condition safeguard and even Medicaid expansion, in states that wanted it — would stay put until the Republicans came up with a total — and better — replacement for the whole shootin’ match.

Until, that is, last week. That’s when the administration — surprising just about everyone and, reportedly, overruling both the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services — filed a brief letter taking the side of the Texas/Utah argument.

Informed speculation has it that the president overruled his legal and administrative brains and set out to destroy Obamacare once and for all. To keep his campaign promise to do so. To satisfy his base. And to force the issue with a Congress that hasn’t been able to come up with a substitute for Obamacare despite all these years of supposedly being focused on little else.

Like O.J. being devoted to looking for the real killer. On the golf courses of Florida, even.

Maybe that will work. Maybe the Republicans will become, in the president’s words, the party of health care, necessity being the mother of invention.

More likely, we are looking at one of two outcomes. Either Obamacare survives, limping into a future where, bill by bill, state by state, it becomes something resembling the kind of basic public service the citizens of First World nations have long taken for granted.

Or it all falls apart, upwards of 20 million poor and not-poor people suddenly find themselves without health care coverage, and the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party rides to everyone’s rescue with single-payer universal coverage. Medicare for All.

The arguments against that are getting more and more feeble. The one stressed repeatedly by conservative (though no longer Republican) pundit George F. Will is that, for Medicare for All to really mean all, we would have to take existing employer-provided coverage away from millions of Americans who, as Barack Obama once said, should be able to keep the coverage they like.

What Will fails to see is that those employer plans provide less coverage, at greater cost, for fewer people every month. Public affection for them is growing thin.

It is like Will’s past argument that we didn’t need the taxpayer-assisted Public Broadcasting Service any more because its function has been usurped by free-market channels such as The Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Arts and Entertainment. Which just proved that he doesn’t watch those channels, most of them just known by initials rather than by whole words that no longer apply, which have been assimilated by Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty and Dr. Pimple Popper.

And all those gig economy jobs, like driving for Lyft or Uber, and all those shiny new coworking spaces, where startups and freelancers rent a desk, Wi-Fi access, maybe the use of a coffeemaker, seem to be the wave of the future. None of them come with health insurance.

Medicare for All is clearly the most entrepreneurial supportive thing our nation could do. If that’s what the president, and the Utah attorney general, are deliberately backing into, well, at least we should have the courtesy to thank them.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is very grateful to the woman who treated him to a Nut Brown Ale at John Harvard’s Brewery and Ale House in Washington, D.C., (which doesn’t exist any more) 20 years ago. gpyle@sltrib.com