A state Capitol rally to protest rejection of Medicaid expansion had more than a little aura of Occupy Wall Street. Protesters invoked civil rights and constitutional rights to drum home the message that state government has a legal and moral obligation to accept what President Barack Obama says is a legal and moral obligation to expand health care.
Gov. Mary Fallin, in a mix of politics and principle, rejected an optional expansion of Medicaid that's part of Obama's Affordable Care Act. She defended the rejection in her State of the State address and again promised that the state will take on more of the burden of health care, but details are evolving.
The “easiest” thing Oklahoma could have done is to accept an expansion which Obama promises to cover 100 percent of, for three years. Washington will cover a reduced share after that. It's the “after that” part that has conservatives worried. They should be worried: Obama has no way to cover the massive entitlement he's created even as he avoids working with conservatives to shore up existing entitlements.
At last week's rally, a state lawmaker said, “This issue is not just about health. It is a civil rights issue.” A placard-carrying protester said he turned out to encourage people to “stand up against the 1 percent” and added that “We need to stand up for our rights, just like the gun owners.”
The implication is that health care is a right guaranteed by the Constitution. It's not. Nor is education. Federal government involvement in health care and education began long ago and won't go away, but any notion that a component of the Bill of Rights extends to the right of citizens to get free flu shots or birth control coverage is foolish.
The cynical view is that the president took all of this into account with Obamacare. First create a federal health care entitlement. Next pressure the states to accept it lock, stock and syringe. Finally, to the states that decline the offer goes the stigma of denying citizens their “rights.” This is devious thinking that ignores the fiscal irresponsibility of Obamacare and inflates legislative mandates into constitutional rights.
One rallier posted a Valentine's Day love letter to Fallin: “Roses are red; violets are blue. Thousands of Oklahomans will die without health care thanks to you.” As bumper-sticker mentality goes, this ranks up there with “Bush Lied. Thousands Died.”
We could dismiss the rally as a passing fancy the way Occupy Wall Street was, but not every speaker has an Occupy mindset. Indeed, support for Medicaid expansion can be as reasonable and principled as opposition to it. Ridiculing either position isn't appropriate.
State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, is a physician who disagreed with Fallin's decision. Cox hopes the governor will change her mind. Another physician at the rally put the issue in more philosophical terms, rising above the placard clamor: “We are our brothers' keepers. We are responsible to each other. We can afford to do so, and we should.”
We'd take issue with the “afford” part, but it's a reasonable, principled statement. This debate must stay on the higher plane of deciding what we should do and how we should pay for it rather than demanding enforcement of a constitutional or civil right to health care that simply doesn't exist.
At least not yet.