The Corner

Democratic Panic . . . then Insurance Company Panic?

Rich, like you, I have great respect for Jim Capretta. But a couple of things. First, I think it overstates the case to describe as his take on insurance-company complaints about keeping people on canceled plans as “overwrought.” He concedes that “reversing the cancelations will entail significant expense and trouble for the insurance industry.” He goes on to opine that enduring this expense and trouble would not be “impossible” — which is hardly the same thing as saying it is practical. His example to illustrate that it is “not impossible” is the California insurance commissioner’s “forcing two insurers to reverse cancelations for hundreds of thousands of individual market plan enrollees.” That is, he suggests that this cannot be done without official coercion. I think the kind of coercion we’re talking about is legally questionable.

Moreover, Jim proceeds to compare the Upton proposal favorably to the Landrieu bill. This seems problematic to me on two scores. First, the Landrieu bill is coercive, and coercion is what Jim intimates will be required to make insurers comply. Concededly, Jim does not have in mind the same degree of governmental pressure as Senator Landrieu, but I’m not sure that kind of nuance is going to be clear to people in a debate of this kind. Second, Upton — as I mentioned in my earlier post — has expressed support for the coercive Landrieu proposal (“a bigger and perhaps better step than what we have in the House”). So while Jim sees what Upton is proposing as significantly different from what Landrieu is proposing, it seems that Upton hasn’t gotten the memo.

I do not mean to suggest that dividing the Democrats is a small thing. You’re right, it’s crucial. Obviously, there can be no derailing of Obamacare unless the politics gets so hot that enough Democrats both flee the reservation and persuade Obama to sign something he will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to sign. I continue to think, however, that Upton’s proposal, if it were enacted, would shift the spotlight and pressure away from where they belong — on Obama and the Democrats — and onto the insurance companies. The companies will be pushed hard to take action that is dubious in a business sense (because Obamacare will continue to be the law and Obama will continue to be untrustworthy, unpredictable, and authoritarian). In addition, with Democrats and Republican moderates agreeing that the insurance companies need to be squeezed to “do the right thing,” the way will be opened toward passage of something close to Landrieu’s coercive proposal, which Upton himself seems to have endorsed. Republicans who defend the insurance companies against government harassment will be portrayed as culprits by the media. That will help Landrieu and the Democrats in 2014.

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