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October 21, 2016

ObamaCare’s Namesake Calls for a Fix

He says criticism is just partisanship, and also that he’s merely taken “the first step.”

It wasn’t long ago that job applicants, after considering a company’s starting salary, would weigh the cost of its health care coverage. Millions of lucky employees worked for companies that paid the entire price for health insurance, while others chipped in a nominal amount. Boy, have times changed.

These days, each new annual enrollment period brings the dread of how much premiums and deductibles will go up. We all know that the Orwellian “Affordable” Care Act was passed with the promise that we could keep our plans and our doctors, and that our families would save $2,500 per year on average. But in the six years since its passage, we’ve found these pledges to be lies. Insurers are pulling out of state-sponsored insurance exchanges, meaning 1.4 million Americans will be forced to change plans — some for the third time. And those who pinned their hopes on the 23 co-ops (Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans) to provide their insurance have looked on helplessly as 16 of those enterprises have failed, while six of the remaining seven languish on a “corrective action plan” that’s usually the precursor to bankruptcy. All told, these co-ops received over $2 billion in loans that will likely never be repaid.

Recall that Democrats passed ObamaCare without a single Republican vote. And once we found out what was in it, we voted them out of office by the dozens. Even Bill Clinton remarked that the Affordable Care Act isn’t working, calling it “the craziest thing in the world.” Hillary’s husband correctly added that “the people that are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies.” Those would be the millions of voters who turned out Democrats in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections.

But the president for whom ObamaCare was derisively named survived his re-election in 2012, and as his days in office dwindle to a precious few he’s trying to again sell us on the benefits of his plan. Speaking at a community college in Miami yesterday, Barack Obama contended that the ACA “gave us affordable health care. So what’s the problem? Why is there still such a fuss? Well, part of the problem is a Democratic president named Barack Obama passed the law. That’s just the truth.” (Didn’t this guy just tell Donald Trump to “stop whining”?)

Yet Obama also conceded, “Just because a lot of the Republican criticism has proven to be false and politically motivated doesn’t mean there aren’t some legitimate concerns about how the law is working now.” (Obviously, the fact that we couldn’t keep our doctors, health plans, or any semblance of affordable private insurance is a partisan complaint.) It’s true that more people are insured now — although 27 million still go without under a bill where everyone was supposed to be covered — but much of the gain was created by loosening Medicaid eligibility standards, and Obama also called on the remaining 19 holdout states to do the same. (One carrot to that approach is a lucrative federal match which originally covered 100% of the cost. The match is phasing down to 90% over the next several years.)

Second, Obama advocated for tax credits to try to broaden the base of insurance purchasers, a proposal that basically expands the subsidy many of those who purchase coverage already receive to eliminate the sticker shock they would otherwise suffer when they saw how much the policies really cost. One issue with that approach is how the subsidy disappears as income rises, so this is nothing but a gimmick to gin up enrollment.

But Obama saved his most cherished idea for last: the return of the “public option.”

“The third thing we should do is add what’s called a public plan fallback to give folks more options in those places where there are just not enough insurers to compete. … This is not complicated. Basically, you would just wait and see — if the private insurers are competing for business, then you don’t have to trigger a public option. But if no private insurers are providing affordable insurance in an area, then the government would step in with a quality plan that people can afford.”

And that’s the end game. Because insurance companies exist to make a profit, they have to make decisions about which markets they can adequately compete in. As time goes on, “those places where there are just not enough insurers to compete” will cover more and more of the country because no private industry has the deep pockets the government does. The failure of the co-ops illustrates this well: In order to build market share, they charged too little to cover initial costs and ran into trouble when those who were older and sicker flocked to sign up thanks to provisions in the law preventing insurers from recouping their costs — perhaps tenfold that of a younger, healthier person — to only three times the rate from bottom to top.

So just imagine the effect on private-sector insurers once Uncle Sam comes in and establishes premiums based on a bottomless well of deficit spending. To borrow a phrase from Newt Gingrich, the private insurance industry will “wither on the vine,” which will lead to the single-payer system the Left has wanted since — well, at least since a former first lady came up with what we derisively called “Hillarycare.” Two decades later, she stands to become president, and we may be longing for those days when employer-paid health insurance was a valuable tool to attract employees. That’s because, as Obama promised yesterday, ObamaCare is “still just a first step.”

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