I often comment in my college courses that it is the nature of government to grow government. In the past ten years, the American public has seen the national government expand its reach to extents never imagined; the creation of the Department of Homeland Security alone increased the size of government by 33% on local, state, and national levels. The Patriot Act, passed under the Bush administration and renewed and expanded under the Obama Administration has reached into the daily lives more than many have even begun to imagine. Under the Patriot Act, emails, phone calls, and even the mail that is sent to our homes is now under increased scrutiny by the government. Now add into this the first parts of the Affordable Care Act that have already been implemented; primary care physicians are now asking their patients about their sexual partners and sexual preference, if there are firearms in the home, and even if alcohol or tobacco are regularly used. What if questions are expanded to include the amount of fast food eaten, the number of fried meals, or how many hours a skateboard is ridden? Personally, I expect these and many more questions as the government begins to try and reduce its financial liabilities through the management of behavior of those participating in the exchanges.
Another reason this law is a bad law is the amount of information it forces to be placed into an electronic record and the number of government agencies that will have access to that record. As a veteran, I do use the Department of Veterans Affairs for my medical needs. Two years ago, the VA went to a paperless records system where all my medical records are stored at a central facility with the understanding that I can use any VA facility and they will have instant access to my personal medical information. While this does sound like a good idea, we all have heard the stories of how hackers have been able to breach corporate firewalls and compromise millions of credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other crucial personal information. With that in mind, what is to stop hackers accessing the personal medical information stored in these national medical data exchanges? I can already see an entire industry of hackers offering to sell your credit information, health information, and other electronic data that the government plans to maintain within these digital files. While the law does state the information contained in the files is confidential, once it is in the hands of such “information brokers” it would be incredibly hard to restrict its use. Imagine trying to find a new job or even renting a townhouse or apartment and having the interviewer know the most personal of your health information.
There are many other reasons this is bad law and perhaps even more reasons that are firmly buried in the legislation and accompanying DHHS regulations yet to be written. This past week, some polls reported that Affordable Care Act is not supported by a majority of Americans and that as many as 47 to 51%, depending upon which polls are used, are in favor of repealing the act in its entirety. In the aftermath of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, the House of Representatives shifted during the mid-term election of 2010 to a Republican majority with many of its newer members leaning more to the conservative side of the party. Since Republicans in the Senate have indicated their willingness to compromise to the Democratic leadership, many are expecting that not only will Democrats lose its leadership within the Senate, but that a few vulnerable establishment Republicans will find themselves replaced with conservative Republicans more in line with the base than with the party’s establishment and current leadership.
The weakened economy, the steadily declining poll numbers of both Congress and the President should serve as a reminder that protecting bad legislation can have an impact in popularity and public approval rates, but can also have consequences at the ballot box. The Affordable Care Act, originally hoped to be the legislation of the 21st century that would ultimately destroy the Republican Party may indeed redefine it, but the collateral damage may destroy the Democratic Party’s ability to retain the Senate and eventually the presidency during the next few elections. At the very least, the Republican Party may be forced to reshape itself to align more to its conservative base; if its party leadership does not adopt this strategy, it may indeed lead to the extinction of the Grand Old Party and the emergence of a new party willing to listen to the conservative constituency.