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Obamacare Snake Oil
As broken promises pile up — “Lower rates for all!” — the Left rolls out new sales pitches.

Obamacare launch day in Los Angeles, Calif.

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In the meantime, Obama’s many apologists in the Washington press corps have switched emphasis. Ezra Klein, a consistently dishonest and credulous proponent of the law, explained bluntly in the Washington Post in June of this year why some people will have to pay more for their insurance under the new regime:

Some people will find the new rules make insurance more expensive. That’s in part because their health insurance was made cheap by turning away sick people. The new rules also won’t allow for as much discrimination based on age or gender. The flip side of that, of course, is that many will suddenly find their health insurance is much cheaper, or they will find that, for the first time, they’re not turned away when they try to buy health insurance.

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Klein is almost certainly right here — although it would have been nice if he’d thought to mention this when the damn thing was being debated. Nevertheless, he is making a completely different argument from the one upon which the president has routinely relied. So, too, has The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn, who noted in the summer that:

Under Obamacare, premiums for some people are bound to go up, because the law requires insurers to cover people they presently turn away for pre-existing conditions — and to provide the kind of comprehensive benefits insurers frequently don’t offer when selling to people on an individual basis.

New York’s Jonathan Chait, meanwhile, chimed in with the rather amazing claim that “it is true — and nobody has ever denied this — that the hypothetical 25-year-old male will pay higher insurance premiums under Obamacare,” and then proceeded to explain that this was a net positive because, over the course of one’s life, the benefits one would reap from the system would outweigh the losses. Chait is, of course, entirely within his rights to argue this. But, again, he is making a argument that is dramatically at odds with the one that Obama used to sell the law. Unless we are to conclude that words mean nothing in contemporary politics, this is a disaster.

Some alert and enterprising types have noticed that what was promised has not in fact come to pass. Republican House whip, Kevin McCarthy, has taken to reminding audiences that “when we started this health-care debate, the president led with a very big promise to the American people: If you like the health care that you have, that you currently have, you can keep it.” The Associated Press, coming better late than never to the world of fact-checking, observed in September: “McCarthy is correct, Obama said exactly that. It was an empty promise, made repeatedly.”

Citizens in the Bay Area have noticed, too. In a piece called “Obamacare’s winners and loser in Bay Area,” the San Jose Mercury News took a look at who was suffering under the new rules. Among the losers are Cindy Vinson and Tom Waschura, both of whom back the president:

Vinson, of San Jose, will pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy, while Waschura, of Portola Valley, will cough up almost $10,000 more for insurance for his family of four.

The pair’s reactions are instructive. “Of course, I want people to have health care,” Vinson told the newspaper. “I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.” Waschura was similarly surprised. “I was laughing at Boehner,” he said, “until the mail came today.”

Hearing stories like this, it is tempting for conservatives to say, “I told you so.” Indeed many have. But one does have to feel a little sorry for the duo. After all, they have heard incessantly from their ideological fellow-travelers the oft-repeated claim that this wasn’t going to happen. There weren’t supposed to be winners and losers; instead, they were advised by fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi that “everybody will have lower rates, better quality care, and better access,” and by President Obama that “for those who have insurance now, nothing will change under the Obama plan — except that you will pay less.” What were trusting citizens supposed to conclude?

Looking back, it is amazing that Obama wasn’t laughed off the stage at the outset. His central claim — that premiums would drop for the typical family by $2,500 — could literally have been taken from the back of an envelope. As the New York Times explained back in 2008, the $2,500 number came from economist David Cutler, who predicted that Obamacare would reduce all health-care spending by $200 billion a year. Candidate Obama, looking for a good sound bite, simply divided this number by the number of families in the United States; then, calculating inexplicably that total health-care spending and family health-insurance premiums were exactly the same thing, he concluded that all money saved would be returned to the people. That Obama considered this a reasonable way of selling a plan that reorganized one-sixth of the economy betrays either a fundamental economic illiteracy or a deeply troubling readiness to mislead.

At the beginning of his big health-care speech in Maryland yesterday, the president told the crowd that, as regards the “reforms that we are making to our health-care system,” “there’s been a lot of things said, a lot of misinformation, a lot of confusion.” He is right, of course. The debate has been mired in dishonesty and casuistry from the very start. And nobody has contributed to this with more enthusiasm and with a louder megaphone than Barack Obama himself.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.



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