The Agenda

On Soptic and the Safety Net

I’ve seen a number of Romney critics suggest that regardless of the facts of the Soptic case, Romney should have to answer the charge that we need a stronger safety net to protect against scenarios like the Soptic case. If the Wall Street Journal editorial board is correct, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, there was a five-year interval between the closing of the GST mill in question post-bankruptcy and the premature death in question. America’s patchwork safety net is difficult to navigate and decidedly incomplete, yet it contains a number of provisions and programs designed to help people who suffer from economic dislocation, including COBRA, which allows for the continuation of coverage after an involuntary job separation (but can be quite expensive); Medicaid, the eligibility rules for which vary from state to state but which as a general rule aims to protect low-income households; and Medicare, which is provided to those individuals who are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. This patchwork system is not, in my view, the best way to address the risk of catastrophic medical expenditures, yet it does exist. Ironing out the complexities and the gaps in this patchwork system is a worthy cause, and it will continue to be a worthy cause if PPACA’s four-tranche near-universal health system is implemented as planned. But one of the central problems with the Soptic case is that it is implausible even as fiction. That said, we absolutely need to improve our health safety net, e.g., there may well be a case for bridge coverage for those who can’t afford COBRA or even having the federal government play a larger role in covering catastrophic medical expenditures and the costs associated with chronic illnesses. It’s just hard to have that conversation in the thick of a campaign.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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