Bertaut recommends you discuss the ACA over fine dining!

I’ve watched with interest, like many of you, the current great debate on the government’s role in healthcare. The fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) is up for grabs. Today, I will cut through the noise for you, and give it to you Straight, with a culinary twist.

We have two clear lines of demarcation over the ACA, with different positions on each side. Since I’m hungry and dying to go to Italy, I’m inclined to label the two sides the Olives and the Grapes. Right now, neither side is playing nice and it’s resulting in a messy, expensive and not very tasty meal.

Introducing the Olives

So, the Olives are pretty upset about the plans and proposals the Grapes are issuing concerning the ACA. The Olives worked really hard to cook the ACA in the first place and they point out that almost 20 million people now are really enjoying a meal where they have very low-cost access to coverage either through Medicaid or through the healthcare.gov exchanges. They say that any plan that disrupts the existing coverage will deprive millions of their “right” to olive oil…eh…coverage. In fact, a leading Olive was asked if he and his Olive friends would help the Grapes improve some of the flavors in the healthcare meal, and this is what he said:

“No way. That’s not a close call. They’re (the Grapes) doing something so extraordinarily reckless. You cannot reward hostage taking.”
— Olive Minority Leader

Fighting words? Doesn’t seem the Olives are in the mood to help the Grapes. But, that cuts both ways.

The Grapes Take a Turn

Much like the Olives back in 2008 when they controlled all three of the presses to make political olive oil, the Grapes now control every cask of political wine in Washington, D.C.  The Grapes, determined to change the healthcare menu, recently released a framework document to give us a feel for what they want to do and why, on healthcare. Here’s a quote from it:

Obamacare is collapsing across the country, raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go.”
— Grape Healthcare Plan

Sounds a bit like indigestion.

There are very strong and very different opinions from both the Olives and the Grapes on what to cook and how to cook it. And no one really seems to be in the mood to allow more cooks in the kitchen.

Mike, Who’s Right? Are We Living in Olive Times or Grape Times?

The correct answer, as Straight as I can make it, is yes. The Olives and Grapes both have valid points and, if you dig deeply enough, you can easily find people 100% in agreement with the Grapes or the Olives on what to cook. Whether or not you agree with either one is pretty much a function of whether you PERSONALLY are in the mood for Olives or Grapes. Let’s stir that around a little.

If you are a person who wanted to buy your own health insurance prior to 2014 but couldn’t get it — because you were too sick or too poor — you’re probably hungry for what the Olives have been cooking. You are probably already benefitting from a steady diet of such healthy food (maybe for the first time in your life) and don’t want that supply cut off. You are clearly someone who needs an Olive victory to continue this improvement in the quality of your life (and diet! Hungry yet?).

If you are a person who already bought your own health insurance prior to 2014, you probably have quite a queasy stomach right about now, along with a lot less money in your wallet because your premiums have skyrocketed. After all, you split the bill for your table, and now there are new people who are a lot hungrier than average who are driving up costs. Plus, the rules in ACA force insurance companies to cover a LOT more stuff, some of which is VERY expensive. They expanded the menu, but even if they added stuff you don’t like or won’t eat, you still have to pay for it. In some cases, a lot.

“Calling each other names, telling people the Olives or the Grapes are spoiled food, and making it personal is a failed commitment to the 20 million people whose coverage is already under way and to the millions more whose premiums have skyrocketed out of control.”

If you were able to buy individual coverage for your whole family before January 2014 and you weren’t poor or sick, the Grapes right now feel like your best hope; they are the only ones talking about fixing all the things about the law that are punishing you. If you had coverage and now you can’t afford it, you are definitely hoping the Grapes can get their act together and give you a smooth, finely aged product you can enjoy without spending too much money.

Are There Leftovers?

It’s simply a matter of perspective. Politics is often about the winners and the losers, and in this case, it’s clear that both the Olives and the Grapes have left quite a bit on the table since 2009. There’s lots of stuff they could have done much better in the planning and cooking of the healthcare law.

The Olives could have worked harder to get the Grapes involved in the original passage of the ACA. Saying “this is an amazing Olive victory with no room for Grapes!” instead of “this is an important victory for the entire pantheon of Italian food!” meant that the Grapes felt left out, and Grapes have a long memory. Changing 17% of our economy with only Olive opinions was a risky strategy that has fed the discontent we are experiencing today.

“Sometimes Grapes and Olives don’t mix very well, but when they work together, a very good meal can result after just a little shaking. Time to shake the olives and grapes into a nice vinaigrette.”

The Grapes could have found their voices and used their influence to fix the law in cooperation with the Olives after it was passed, instead of jumping straight to “repeal.” There were plenty of opportunities between March 2010 and January 2014 to make the law less harmful and offensive to other Grapes. Instead, they focused on repeatedly passing bills to “repeal” the law, none of which would ever be signed by any president and become law. It was like chopping up all the veggies for salad knowing full well you’d never mix them.

Now What? A New Cookbook

As an Italian cultural and cuisine aficionado who has followed the Olive vs. Grape debate on healthcare for many years, I consider myself singularly qualified to offer my opinion on what should happen now. If you want a tasty meal everyone can enjoy, get out your favorite knife and cutting-board and pay attention:

First, the Grapes need to remember that the ACA is like a vine, growing through many federal agencies. If you start ripping up the vine at the roots, it will take a lot of good soil with it that will be very hard to replace. In other words, it will be VERY difficult to give the most poor and vulnerable among us the same level of protection they have today from healthcare costs while repealing, or replacing the ACA. First, do no harm.

Second, the Olives need to remember that the Grapes really cannot fully repeal the ACA. The Olives would be well served to invite the Grapes over to dinner to see if they would support their efforts to amend and adjust the ACA. Maybe the Olives and Grapes can work together to make the law more palatable to the diners already at the ACA feast. The more favorite foods the Olives and the Grapes can find in common, the better for everyone.  Clearly, this current ACA meal is not all that tasty to everyone, and improvement can certainly be made together.

Calling each other names, telling people the Olives or the Grapes are spoiled food, and making it personal is a failed commitment to the 20 million people whose coverage is already under way and to the millions more whose premiums have skyrocketed out of control.

Olives should recognize they are in the minority party and offer compromises that both Grapes and Olives can support, rather than just saying “the meal is fine just like it is!” and walking away. The Grapes did that in 2010, and we can see that has not been an effective strategy since then. The Grapes should be willing to listen and protect the most vulnerable among us.

Sometimes Grapes and Olives don’t mix very well, but when they work together, a very good meal can result after just a little shaking. Time to shake the olives and grapes into a nice vinaigrette.

I started this Straight Talk hungry and ready to talk about the great debate going on right now over healthcare. What I want to make as clear as I can is, if both sides continue this “I’m going to cook it my way not matter who likes it or not” attitude, millions will suffer as a result. Nobody has all the right answers. Without meaningful contributions from both Grapes AND Olives, our healthcare meal will continue to be bland and unfulfilling for many. And WAY too expensive for anyone’s tastes.

We need both Olives and Grapes for a tasty, filling experience.

Straight Talk does dinner! Buon Appetito!