Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, questions David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during his testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Key congressman: It’s ‘a good thing’ if more Americans lose coverage

Updated
Rep. Mike Burgess (R-Texas) chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee related to health care, which makes his perspective on the issue rather important. If Republicans ever present their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, for example, Burgess’ panel would be among the first to tackle the policy.

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It was therefore rather striking yesterday when the far-right congressman appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and shared an unusual insight. BuzzFeed reported:
Burgess was asked about concerns that repealing Obamacare will lead to a drop in the number of people with health insurance. He responded that it would be a good thing because it means fewer people are subject to the individual mandate.

“First off, we’re not going to send an IRS agent out to chase you down and make you buy health insurance,” said Burgess. “So if the numbers (of insured people) drop I would say that’s a good thing because we restored personal liberty in this country.”
It’s a fascinating perspective. It doesn’t matter if the ACA is helping bring health security to millions of Americans; what matters, in Burgess’ mind, is conservative ideological principles.

U.S. News’ Robert Schlesinger noted in response, “If you listened to Burgess, you’d think that all or most of [the 20 million people insured by the ACA] were dragged kicking and screaming into the system and that they yearn for liberation from the tyranny of being able to afford catastrophic illness.”

Burgess, however, isn’t the only one reading from this script. Vice President Mike Pence said this week he wants to gut “Obamacare” in order to bring back “freedom.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) added that his anti-ACA plans is based on a single principle: “Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need. Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs.”

All of this must resonate with the focus groups Republicans convene, but it doesn’t make nearly as much sense as GOP officials want to believe. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler explained the other day:
Under the old order, far too many people didn’t have the ability to buy insurance in the first place. Or if they could, they were subjected to lifetime coverage limits, no coverage for pre-existing conditions, and any number of other personal barriers and restrictions.

And since Obamacare’s major accomplishment was to counter those forces, and thus enable people to get health insurance, that in turn opened up whole new areas of personal freedom: the ability to take risks and get new jobs, or start new businesses, and or simply have a sense of security and peace of mind.

So how exactly would it be a victory for “freedom” to pull out the rug from those who can finally buy health insurance?
Under the Republican approach, Americans can have the “personal liberty” of not receiving needed medical care. We can all be “free” to ration health services based on our individual wealth.

Ryan believes “freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need,” but the Speaker may not understand the point of insurance: we don’t always know what we’ll need, which is why we seek medical coverage in the first place.

I look forward to Republican policymakers telling countless Americans, “Your family is one serious illness away from financial ruin, and your health is at risk from treatable ailments, but look at how great your liberty is!”

Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Mike Pence, Obamacare and Paul Ryan

Key congressman: It's 'a good thing' if more Americans lose coverage

Updated