Conservatives are notoriously skeptical of both logical arguments and evidence-based claims that lacking health insurance carries health and mortality risks. Many of them take it pretty personally when Obamacare supporters argue that Republican efforts to undermine the law's insurance expansion are putting people's lives at stake.
So it's nice watching them come around to the view that having decent health coverage is actually a life and death issue.
"We've not just let them down, we've let them die," a teary John Boehner told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing on Thursday. He was referring to veterans who died in Arizona while awaiting the health care to which they were entitled. "This is awful stuff," he said.
Obviously these veterans did have insurance in the sense that the government promised not just to finance their health care but to actually provide it to them. The whole point of the scandal, though, is that the government broke its promise, tried to dodge accountability for it, and several veterans apparently died in the de facto coverage gap.
We still don't know whether we can attribute any of these deaths to lapses in care. But if you believe, as most Affordable Care Act supporters do, that lacking access to health care is a risky business, then you know it's possible. And that's horrifying. John Boehner gets that it's horrifying. In fact, he's so aware of the risks involved that he's skipped straight over skepticism and conditionality to the conclusion (or conjecture, really) that at least some of the deaths were in fact preventable.
Maybe Boehner will be proven wrong. Maybe all of the deaths happened to be unavoidable. But that wouldn't undermine the correctness of his instinct that making it difficult for sick people to obtain health care is incredibly reckless. It's just too bad that he and other Republicans apply that instinct so inconsistently. Conservatives using the VA scandal to ignite an ideological crusade against public benefits need to consider the broader implications of John Boehner's thinking. That includes John Boehner himself.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.