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October 28, 2016

More Gruber Hubris: ObamaCare ‘Working as Designed’

The architect says everything is all going according to plan.

The last time ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber tried to defend his Frankenstein creation, those who passed the law before they read it tried to deny he was even part of the team. “I don’t know who [Gruber] is,” said Nancy Pelosi at the time. “He didn’t help write our bill.” Nearly two years later, in the wake of new health insurance premium numbers that suggest the tab will rise an average of 25% — with some hapless souls staring at triple-digit increases — Gruber again defended the program he helped to create by saying, “The law is working as designed.”

Gruber’s only suggested “fix” is to make the penalty for non-compliance higher. “Experts would agree,” Gruber said, “that we need a larger mandate penalty.” (When an academic or a bureaucrat says “experts would agree,” hold tight to your wallet.) Gruber contended that the drastic rate increases wouldn’t affect most consumers because their federal subsidies would cover the cost. In other words, the rest of the American taxpayers would pick up the bill.

Yet the program isn’t working as intended — if the intent was truly to make health care more affordable. The issue is complex, but ObamaCare isn’t getting the enrollment anticipated from younger and healthier workers, who were expected to pull the weight of older and sicker patients. Perhaps those weight-pullers have other priorities: “Young people can do the math,” said Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini. “Gas for the car, beer on Fridays and Saturdays (or) health insurance.”

Meanwhile, those older and sicker people flocked to the program because they could get insurance at more reasonable rates thanks to price controls added with ObamaCare. In a natural reaction, insurers who can’t make this system profitable have withdrawn, leaving fewer competitors in many areas. Five states have only one insurance company offering coverage. Another eight states have only one in a majority of counties.

This was the reason Barack Obama made the case last week for a “public option,” a government insurer that would eventually corner the market as its deep, taxpayer-funded pockets could undercut any competition. (After all, when did the government ever have to turn a profit?)

And while Gruber pointed with pride to the 20 million who’ve secured health insurance since ObamaCare came online, he didn’t add that many of those were new Medicare patients who qualified because states agreed to relax the income guidelines to increase eligibility. Gruber did take the time to chastise states that haven’t changed their Medicare eligibility rules: Those states receive full reimbursement from the federal government initially, but they eventually absorb an increasing share of the cost. He also contended that the recent surge in premiums is only the market catching up. “What you have to remember is that premiums in 2014 came in way below what we expected,” said Gruber. “In fact, where they are today is exactly where they thought they’d be today.”

So he realized there would be sticker shock at some point. And Democrats all lied about it.

In his remarks two years ago, Gruber noted that people weren’t smart enough to catch on to the ruse. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever,” he infamously told a panel at the University of Pennsylvania, “but basically that was really, really critical to get the thing to pass.”

Stupid voters or not, Gruber now seems elated with what he’s foisted on the public. Speaking Wednesday to CNN’s Carol Costello, he double-dared Republicans to repeal ObamaCare: “Well, first of all [Donald Trump] won’t repeal it. Remember, the whole argument and public debate against this law is that people didn’t get to keep insurance they liked. Well, you’re going to have 20 million Americans or more who are now getting insurance that they like. You’re not going to take that away from them. And let’s be clear: There is no replace; there is only repeal. There is no Republican alternative to this law, and the reason is because this is fundamentally a bipartisan legislation that was originally drafted on Republican principles.” (Bipartisan legislation that zero Republicans voted for in Congress.)

It’s also a flat-out lie that Republicans have no alternatives. They have many, but because they don’t call for government mandates and public options, Democrats pretend these alternatives simply don’t exist.

Before Barack Obama set foot in the Oval Office, the health insurance industry was mainly regulated at the state level. The huge difference in the market now stems from the federal mandates that were placed on the industry by the Affordable Care Act, making it far more difficult for insurers to cover their costs. And, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson points out, ObamaCare regulators also made it up as they went along.

Unfortunately, the argument that states should return to being the arbiters of what is acceptable insurance for their citizens is an argument that has been abandoned — witness this from Trump’s “Healthcare Reform” policy statement: “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare. However, it is not enough to simply repeal this terrible legislation. We will work with Congress to make sure we have a series of reforms ready for implementation that follow free market principles and that will restore economic freedom and certainty to everyone in this country.”

While Trump has proposed the elimination of the individual mandate, we may not lose many of the federal regulations even if he wins on Nov. 8. Hillary Clinton will likely take Gruber’s advice to heart — don’t be surprised if penalties for non-compliance are drastically increased under her administration.

But remember, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” Alas, that only seems to apply to those who made and supported the plan in the first place, not those who have to pay for it. The plans we liked are an ever more distant memory, with the sad reality being that nothing short of a miracle of voting, foresight, patience, and (particularly) backbone will ever put the system right again.

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