Despite urgings two weeks ago from President Barack Obama not to “run for the hills,” at least five Democratic state senators in Virginia are currently huddled atop Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state — figuratively speaking, of course.

The five crossed party lines Monday to vote with Republicans to approve a bill making it illegal in Virginia to “force” anyone to buy health insurance.

The vote is thought to be the first legislative victory for the “tea party” movement, and a direct intra-party challenge to Democratic efforts in Washington to “reform” the health care system.

With the upset victory of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race, and with mid-term congressional elections looming, more Democrats are expected to scurry for the high ground in coming months.

So, what could have been the law of the land two weeks ago — mandated
participation for those who can afford health care — may soon be
illegal in Virginia. Isn’t that a dramatic turn of events?

While there were many things we did not like about the version of health care reform that almost became law last month, this provision was the least objectionable.

It is the same sort of requirement that is in place in Massachusetts, and which makes that state’s universal coverage plan feasible.

Nobody is “forced” to buy health insurance in Massachusetts, nor would they have been forced to in the separate plans approved by the U.S. House and Senate.

Instead, there would have been an extra tax payment for those who have the ability to pay something for health insurance, but who choose not to.

Or, you can look at it the opposite way. Rather than seeing a penalty for those who do not buy insurance, this could have been called a “fair share” offset, or a tax break for those who do carry insurance.

Americans don’t like penalties or forcing anyone to do anything. But everyone likes a tax break.

Currently, those firms and individuals with insurance end up paying not only for their own health care, but for those who are uninsured. This adds an estimated 15-25 percent to all hospital bills, and helps explain why rates keep increasing as the number of uninsured steadily climbs.

If you offer health care insurance to all, even those with pre-existing conditions, what’s to keep them from buying insurance only when they get sick? That’s like allowing people to buy homeowner’s insurance after their house burns to the ground.

Healthy people must participate in order for universal health care to work, and by “participate,” we mean pay for insurance or pay a tax penalty to help offset their expected unpaid medical expenses.

Perhaps the Virginia Legislature will take another bold step. If we cannot “force” people to purchase health care insurance, why should hospitals and the rest of us be “forced” to pay for their care?

Perhaps tea party supporters can now rally around righting that wrong.

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