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How Nixoncare became Obamacare

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

As someone -- perhaps Homer Simpson -- once observed, change is hard.

We humans are raised to embrace, if not defend, the status quo. Although that's generally a good thing as it relates to forming societies and avoiding life's assorted scams and cons, it also tends to impede our collective progress toward freedom, human rights, feeding the poor and providing health care for all.

The more things change ...

We're immersed in one of those counter-intuitive struggles right now over Obamacare. And because we're dyed-in-the-wool embrace-and-defenders, we're nitpicking every website error message and health insurance cancellation notice as if each held some divine message to turn back now before it's too late. All this, despite the fact that we've been here before, with Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for low-income families in 1965, and with Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage in 2006.

Our aversion to change is certainly not confined to health care reform, however. In the past century alone we've overcome the status quo to grant voting rights to women in the 1920s, feed needy families with the launch of welfare in the 1930s, codify equal rights for racial minorities in the 1960s and recognize same-sex marriages in 2013.

None of these changes came without years of struggle and sacrifice, yet once ratified, each became an inseparable part of the status quo that we now defend. Obamacare likely will join their ranks as the kerfuffle of the moment over online portals fades and millions of folks who previously couldn't afford health insurance suddenly have it.

From Nixon to Romney to Obama?

A recent Huffington Post piece by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich helped me put all the hyperventilating over Obamacare into perspective. Reich points out that in February 1974, Republican President Richard Nixon proposed, in essence, today's Affordable Care Act. It went nowhere then because Democrats had their sights set on a single-payer "socialized medicine" approach that would be funded through a payroll tax, just like Social Security and Medicare.

"Thirty years later, a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, made Nixon's plan the law in Massachusetts," Reich writes. "When today's Republicans rage against the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, it's useful to recall this was their idea as well."

See the crazy turns history often takes? Who says the universe doesn't have a sense of humor. Or irony.

The value to society of shifting the cost burden of millions of uninsured Americans off of taxpayers and onto health insurance companies -- a shift, it should be noted, that health insurers welcome with open arms -- far outweighs a couple of months of website troubles.

And without the vision of President Barack Obama -- and ironically, that of Republican President Richard Nixon as well -- this small step toward a potentially better life for millions of our fellow Americans would not have happened at all.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.

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