Monday, April 24, 2006

If you don't like it, leave.

(cross-posted from the Tally Ho.)
As someone who moved a lot as a kid, I was generally in favor of letting states decide their own policies. It's a big, wide country, and every town we lived in had its own quirks and its own way of doing things. It just made sense to let the people who lived in each state decide what they needed, and those who didn't like the policy could move. Now, as an adult with a lot more stuff and a city that I love so much I refuse to leave, I am about to officially switch sides.

As you probably heard, earlier this month Massachusetts passed a bill requiring its citizens to obtain health care--a "universal health care" plan that was hailed as an ambitious and inventive landmark. It states that every MA resident will have health insurance; extremely low-income residents will receive health care from the state, those below 300% of the poverty level will recieve a subsidy to help pay for health care, and those above 300% of the poverty level are expected to be able to pay out of pocket for individual health insurance if they don't get it through work or family. Companies with more than ten employees will be required to offer health insurance or pay a fine of $295 per employee per year. The $295 fine was negotiated carefully with the business community, down from about $800 per year; Gov. Romney used his line item veto to negate it, but his vetoes are expected to be overridden by the state congress. Everyone seems to like this plan, from health care advocates to employers. I find it alarming, and other states are pretty alarmed at the idea as well. Romney says, "We insist that everybody who drives a car has insurance. And cars are a lot less expensive than people." This plan seems like it might be reasonable for someone who lives in suburban or rural MA. However, my friends in Boston pour most of their income to rent. As for Mr. Romney's comparison with car insurance, it's a bad analogy. People who don't feel like they can afford car insurance (especially those who live in an urban area) aren't required to own a car. No one who lives in MA seems to be exempt from this health insurance plan. And although the folks who crafted this legislation predict that insurers will lower their rates when more healthy people sign up, there's no evidence that anything of the sort will happen. In fact, if insurers know they have a captive audience in MA, why won't they raise their rates? I'm extremely concerned that this "universal health care" plan will give rise to more stripped down health insurance plans that fail to cover basic preventive care, particularly reproductive care for women. The bottom line: if you are a taxpayer in MA, you are now required to find health insurance.

More frightening (and far less likely to happen) is the recent drafting of legislation that would prohibit abortions in Ohio, and prohibit any Ohio woman from getting an abortion. The proposed abortion ban isn't really news, as 11 other states besides Ohio--Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia--are jumping on the bandwagon behind South Dakota. The unusual bit is that it would be a felony for a woman to seek to terminate a pregnancy, even if she didn't follow through, and she's just as liable if she obtains an abortion outside state lines. Anyone assisting her could also be charged with a felony. (The article doesn't go into specifics of the law, such as whether there's an exception for the woman's life or whether we would be like El Salvador and have to wait for fetal death or tubal rupture to fix an ectopic pregnancy.) Again, this is not legislation that describes a state's own action or prohibition, but directs the actions of residents. How do we determine residency in this situation? Would one of my college friends, paying taxes in Michigan, be bound by this law if she chose to get an abortion outside Ohio but lived there for much of the year? What about my mother, who retained her Ohio residency while the military was shipping our family to six different states? (And since my parents were Ohio residents, would I have been prohibited from obtaining an abortion even though I didn't physically live in Ohio until I was mostly grown?) Ohio seems to want to get one better on all the other states preparing abortion restrictions. Fortunately, this law is restrictive enough to jeapordize the rich folks who would otherwise be able to travel to IL or NY, so I'm hopeful that it has little chance of ever seeing daylight.

Aside from your views on abortion law or health insurance costs, these are shocking attempts by a state to mandate certain behavior from its citizens, both inside and outside state lines. Suddenly, my state residence seems much more important, and the phrase "if you don't like it, you can move" seems both more ominous and more probable from many of the states I've lived in and loved.


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