David Harsanyi / November 1, 2013

ObamaCare’s Authoritarian Problem

You can’t keep your insurance if you like it under Obamacare, because you’re too ignorant to understand what’s good for you. That’s the argument we’ve been hearing from a lot of folks on the left – an argument that pivots from “common good” to soft authoritarianism. President Barack Obama is all in, as well, claiming that he was merely guilty of forcing Americans to pick a “Ferrari” health care plan over a “Ford” one. (Is it really “picking” if you’re forced?)

You can’t keep your insurance if you like it under Obamacare, because you’re too ignorant to understand what’s good for you.

That’s the argument we’ve been hearing from a lot of folks on the left – an argument that pivots from “common good” to soft authoritarianism. President Barack Obama is all in, as well, claiming that he was merely guilty of forcing Americans to pick a “Ferrari” health care plan over a “Ford” one. (Is it really “picking” if you’re forced?)

This is necessary because health care is not a product as a toaster is a product. (It took me only a few seconds online to find 613 different types of toasters, ranging in price from more than $300 to $15. They weren’t subsidized, and I even could carry them across state lines. If health care were like toasters, we’d all be in great shape.) And as they do with anything that features negative externalities, technocrats will tinker, nudge and, inevitably, push.

“America doesn’t have a free-market health care system and hasn’t for decades,” Business Insider’s Josh Barro wrote in a piece titled “If You Like Your Health Plan, You Probably Shouldn’t Be Able To Keep It.” “With taxpayer subsidies so embedded in everybody’s plan purchasing decisions, taxpayers have a legitimate interest in ensuring that health plans serve the public interest, not just private interests.”

“Legitimate” is a malleable adjective. Just think of all the other areas of American society that are subsidized by taxpayers. Agriculture, higher education, the auto industry, the banking industry, professional sports, marriage – the possibilities are endless. Why is Washington allowing 20-year-old college students to work on business degrees when we need them to be engineers and factory workers? We subsidize, so why don’t we decide?

CNN.com contributor Sally Kohn wrote a piece titled “A canceled health plan is a good thing.” You’re not getting what you want; you’re getting what you need. Kohn – unsheathing the “public good” justification that opponents of same-sex marriage regularly use – failed to mention even once that the president explicitly assured Americans while campaigning for the Affordable Care Act that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” NBC News is reporting that the Obama administration knew that millions of Americans would probably lose their current health plans because of the implementation of the law, yet it went on lying.

It’s almost as if some people believe lying is acceptable – even preferable – if the political outcomes are morally pleasing to them. Many Obamacare supporters, in fact, are beginning to sound as if they couldn’t care less about process, the law, order, competence or anything that undermines the goal of putting your health care choices into more capable hands.

But even the more specific arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.

Admittedly, many people do stupid things that aren’t good for them. And though I may not know exactly what I need, I probably know as much about what I need as Kohn or Obama – or even the 51.1 percent of the electorate that voted for the president. The reason Kohn and many of the others believe that Americans should be thankful for a paternalistic administration that en masse pushed us into (supposedly) top-shelf plans is that they don’t believe in markets or they don’t understand how they work – and in some cases, it’s both.

Let me put it this way: There’s this Chinese restaurant near my house. It’s not the cleanest place, granted. And the folks who “work” there are, it seems, completely uninterested in my dining experience. The food is priced accordingly. But I love the dumplings. It’s really all that matters to me. There’s another Chinese place nearby. This one is newer. It has a friendly and attractive staff. It offers me clean silverware, and I walk on expensive contemporary tiles. All that classy stuff is nice, and it’s also embedded into the price of my dumplings – which are no better. I don’t want to pay for the tiles. I just want the dumplings.

In health care and other things, we often pick plans that offer us something we value above other things. Americans don’t need all their plans to look the same. Maybe some of them like the customer service; maybe some like the stability of staying with one company for many years. This is why having 600 toasters in an open market is preferable to having a handful of choices in a fabricated “market” exchange – and why choice is better for us than coercion.

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