No, the Failure of CLASS Does Not Suggest that the Rest of ObamaCare Will Be a Success

Last week saw the clearest policy victory for opponents of ObamaCare so far: After months of pressure, the Obama administration finally admitted that implementing the CLASS long-term care program was not viable; they shuttered the program.

In response, liberals defenders of ObamaCare have admitted that CLASS was poorly designed. But they’ve argued that critics of last year’s health care law don’t have much to celebrate. After all, CLASS was a program of unusual uncertainty that was not an integral part of ObamaCare's larger universal coverage scheme. If anything, they’ve argued, doesn’t the administration’s decision to shut down CLASS prove its commitment to good governance, and show that the system works?

Here for example, is Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic, who graciously noted that critics of CLASS were right to focus on its flaws. But he doesn’t think that tells much about what we can expect from the rest of ObamaCare:

Doesn’t this call into question the rest of the law? It shouldn’t. For one thing, the estimates on long-term care always involved unusually high uncertainty, because the evidence on how such policies work is relatively thin and the insurance product itself was unusual. There’s just wasn't that much experience on which to base actuarial models.

But that’s true of the budget projections made for the rest of the law as well. Anyone who wants an overview of how complex estimating the effects of a comprehensive health care overhaul can be should read former Congressional Budget Office director Robert Reischauer and Linda Billheimer’s 1994 Health Affairs essay, “Confessions of the Estimators: Numbers and Health Reform,” which explains step-by-step how they estimated the effects of President Clinton’s proposed health overhaul.

Much of what they had to do was set up a working model of the American health care market, with numerical values for dozens of interrelated factors. For many of the factors, they had incomplete data. For others, they had data that was imperfect, or didn’t quite provide the exact measurement they needed. For other factors, they had no good data at all. So they did the only thing they could. They guessed. That’s not intended as a slam on the CBO; all things considered, the guesses they made were probably pretty good. Instead, it’s intended to highlight the tremendous uncertainty of the process.

We have some better estimating tools now than we did. But that just means the models have become more complex. And that means more uncertainty, and more opportunity for the projections to miss their mark.

Here’s Mother Jones's Kevin Drum, meanwhile, making the second point—that CLASS tells us how committed the administration is to governing honestly:

What happened here is that government worked exactly the way it ought to. The CLASS Act was passed in a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals (it was one of Ted Kennedy's longstanding priorities), and the Department of Health and Human Services immediately began the detailed work of writing the implementing regulations to get it up and running. And guess what? They did their work honestly and conscientiously.

This may be true of the folks who worked in the now-closed CLASS office set up after the law passed. But it wasn’t true of the administration or other Democratic backers of the law while they were working to get it passed. In May of 2009, Richard Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary wrote an email to a number of Health and Human Services staffers who were, according to the AP, working with Congress to ensure that CLASS was included in the final health care legislation. He offered a quick take on the program, but the message was clear: “This proposal doesn't look workable," Foster wrote. A few months later, in October 2009, a senior Obama administration official on aging policy ran the numbers and reported to Congressional Democrats that CLASS “seems like a recipe for disaster.”

So there’s no question that both the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress were alerted that the program was a mess. Indeed, according to Cohn, in internal discussions, several administration officials “argued against including it, precisely because they were worried about the finances and sustainability.”

They knew the program was a disaster. They knew the numbers didn’t add up. Yet many of them made all sorts of claims to the contrary. And in March, 2010, they passed it—along with the rest of ObamaCare—anyway.

This does not strike me as particularly “honest” or “conscientious.” The administration saw $70 billion in deficit reduction that they could tack onto the law, and they took it.

Even if you accept the idea that the program was included in the final law strictly out of some emotionally driven desire to honor Sen. Ted Kennedy’s legacy, it still doesn’t excuse what happened with the program. (How much lost taxpayer money is Kennedy’s legacy worth?)

Nor does the timeline reflect particularly well on the trustworthiness of those behind the rest of the law. A quick recap: The administration and its Democratic allies in Congress passed CLASS under the pretense that it was fiscally sound, knowing full well that it wasn’t. Eventually, faced with a slew of criticism, including a recommendation from Obama’s own deficit panel that the program should be shut down, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted that it wouldn’t work as written, but assured Congress that she had the power to fix it—despite clear evidence that her agency was worried that she didn’t have the power. Only after Republican investigators revealed documents showing that the Obama administration and Democratic leadership knew about the problems for months before passage did HHS shut down the CLASS office—and then the administration wouldn’t even admit that it was shut down. Now the administration has agreed not to implement the program, but for no real reason still refuses to support repeal. This is not exactly a reassuring chain of events. 

Obama and his allies passed one part of ObamaCare while making promises about its fiscal stability they knew were wrong. Why shouldn’t we suspect that the same of the rest of the law?

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  • There is no "we"||

    One boat. No life jackets. Row to shore, or drown all together.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: There is no "we",

    One boat. No life jackets. Row to shore, or drown all together.


    Are you describing your family outings?

  • There is no "we"||

    I'm describing the new reality. You can try to unspool this thing all you want. It will blow up in your fat smug face. There is no way back to the status quo ante.

  • T||

    You, and Garrett Hardin, are making fundamental errors about how the world works in an attempt to use simple analogies to sway people's thinking to your point of view. Fuck your propaganda.

  • ||

    I thought that was a spoof.

  • There is no "we"||

    You are wishing and dreaming and thinking-in-magical-terms while reality overtakes you and stomps your fat smug face into the pavement.

    The medical insurance industry is not going to help you get back to the status quo ante. They were in an adverse-selection death spiral before ObamaCare threw them a lifeline. In this economy, they would sink even faster into the abyss.

    The government cannot afford to subsidize an employer-driven system that throws the sickest and poorest twenty percent of the population onto the dole any longer.

    Your Objectivist fantasies are going to die in front of you like so many fruit flies. This is democracy, and your self-important daisy-chain pseudo-logic about "self-ownership" and related nonsense will count for exactly nothing in the end.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    I'm sure the MSM will cover this on the evening news.

  • ||

    And Obama is so honest about the failure of the act, he opposes the repeal of it.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/healt.....act-repeal

    So is it more vital to Obamacare than these people believe? Or is Obama less honest than these people are claiming?

  • ||

    Look, I admit I fucked this up, but it is not like I could fuck up the rest, right? It's not like I could fuck up everything! Like, if you flip a coin, and it comes up heads, then it probably won't come up heads next time, right?

  • Apatheist||

  • Old Mexican||

    "Not too much tongue if you please, Mr. President!"

  • ||

    It's miscegenation at its worst OM.

  • ||

    After what Michelle puts him through, I am sure the thought of bedding a skinny older white women sounds pretty good even if she is as frigid as the White Witch.

  • Chris||

    Mixed race children are almost always cute, but imagine if you have two mixed raced parents, their kids will come out ultra-cute. Take it a step further where all four grandparents are mixed race. you'll produce an angel, and that's actually pretty scary. May have to bring back miscegenation laws to prevent the Apocalypse.

  • JoJo Zeke||

    (How much lost taxpayer money is Kennedy’s legacy worth?)

    How may drowned secretaries/campaign volunteers?

  • ||

    CLASS tells us how committed the administration is to governing honestly

    Why, yes, indeed it does.

  • stuartl||

    100s of billions of taxpayer dollars burned, 70 billion dollars of lies -- what a great legacy for Teddy Kennedy! Throw in booze and women and it would be perfect.

  • The Other Kevin||

    So CLASS turned out to be shit. But I'm sure the REST of the tens of thousands of pages of Obamacare, which were written in secret, forced through Congress, and that we couldn't see until after the law was passed, are still awesome.

  • ||

    I don't have time to craft anything, but I think I have a new song for Obama: "Obamic Punk" (from Valen Halen's "Atomic Punk").

  • Invisible Finger||

    What happened here is that government worked exactly the way it ought to. The CLASS Act was passed in a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals

    Yeah, that's the way government is supposed to work. Kevin Drum is kind a stupid asshole. Yeah, he says it worked "honestly and conscientiously", as if the initial fraud is always caught and stopped so quickly. What a dope.

  • ||

    This may be true of the folks who worked in the now-closed CLASS office set up after the law passed. But it wasn’t true of the administration or other Democratic backers of the law while they were working to get it passed.

    It also wasn't true of Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, or anyone stumping for HIPAA, both of whom emitted some of the most blatantly false octopus ink during the run-up to passage of any legislation I have ever heard tell. They just lied through their teeth about what the CBO scoring said; forget alleged "double-counting", any savings were engineered from the start to rely on the actions of future Congresses, actions that historically have been shown to be, uh, less-than-forthcoming when it comes to cutting Medicare fee-for-service rates.

  • ||

    ^^This^^ Klein is like Marat if he were reincarnated as a douchebag.

  • Jeff P||

    I am stuck with an urge to watch Mandingo...

  • rather||

    No, the Failure of CLASS Does Not Suggest that the Rest of ObamaCare Will Be a Success and neither does it presage failure

  • WTF||

    Threadjack:
    Scalia manages to rule correctly on the pizza question.

  • ||

    The guinea knows his pizza.

  • ||

    Guinea is a racial slur that you just don't hear enough these days. Also: dago.

  • ||

    My wife is half Italian and uses it all of the time. But gets insanely mad if anyone else uses it. It is really a class thing among Italians. Someone who would appear on Jersey shore is most definitely a Guinea. She uses it to describe the less than desireables on the North Shore of Boston.

  • WTF||

    Let's not forget wop, greaser, guido and goombah.

  • ||

    Nick uses spaghetti bender.

  • Apatheist||

    Jabronis? I think its some kind of dago word.

  • ||

    A pizza originalist, eh? A single justice's opinion means nothing. Where's the rest of the Court? What does Thomas think?

  • ||

    Pizza is not a living document, ProL.

  • ||

    The right to deep-dish pizza is protected under the First Amendment's right to freely assemble. . .pizza.

  • ||

    You can assemble whatever abomination you like. You just can't defame the Pizza by naming it that.

  • ||

    Don't oppress me!

  • ||

    I certainly won't be treading on your deep dish pizza. Those cheese burns would not be pleasant.

  • ||

    You Canadians don't have freedom of pizza assembly, anyway.

  • ||

    Everything depends on situation, for pete's sake. Who the fuck wants to stop on the corner and get a "slice" of deep-dish pizza (tomato pie, whatever), and walk down the street with it while sipping on a coke? They are both excellent, if properly prepared, and in the right place. A well-prepared deep-dish is light years better than a Dominos piece of shit.

    I realize I am speaking to children here. Can't we all just get along?

  • Chris||

    I realize I am speaking to children here. Can't we all just get along?

    You know who else pleads the maturity card. Fat kids, and fat kids only, fatty.

  • ||

    Chris with the X-ray eyes. How'd you know, dickless?

  • Chris||

    Whoosh!

  • ||

    Chris, I lol'd, for what it's worth.

  • Chris||

    A wee bit of joy to my day, that's how much.

  • Chris||

    Also, the only reason you would like the Chicago goo is for the gooey half cooked dough. Only gluten addicts would be gluttons for punishment. And gluten addicts are all fat.

  • WTF ||

    I agree the Chicago thing tastes good, it just isn't Pizza.

  • ||

    hey i found out where the word "wop" comes from.

    It means WithOut Papers.

    Wikipedia that is a myth but fuck wikipedia.

  • Chris||

    Given the makers of Munchos and Pringles are not allowed to call their products potato chips (crisp), I don't see why Chicagoans are allowed to call whatever it is they make a pizza.

    It is no less of a stretch in the claim of consumer fraud that FDA uses to justify keeping those Godly products down.

  • Tony||

    Whereas libertarian/conservatives are clearly superior on the subject of healthcare reform, with their "have lots of money or die" plan.

  • Old Mexican||

    Translation: I know our plan is pure shit, but in my psychotic world, the conservative/libertarian [sic] plan cannot be any better!

  • cynical||

    I thought our plan was the "have lots of money and deal with risk directly, or have moderate amounts of money and pay up front according to your risk, or else depend on the kindness of strangers" plan.

  • ||

    Stick to the subject dickweed. The subject is pizza.

  • ||

    Does the first photo strike anyone else as strange?

    Not that a black man is kissing a middle aged white women...that part is mildly sexy.

    But why the fuck is the president kissing an appointed head health care bureaucrat in front of a clapping audience?

    WTF is going here?

    When the fuck did American politics become a French family?

  • cynical||

    Maybe he was leaning in to whisper and got snapped in an awkward position?

  • ||

    If the administration was so intent on honouring Kennedy's legacy, they could've just all driven off a bridge instead. Probably would've worked out much better for the country.

  • Guest||

    Professor do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Professor: Sure, I'll play along.

    Did you support Obamacare?

    Professor: Yes.

    Then you do not accept freewill and you are a potential tyrant.

    Professor: You just flunked this course pal.


    Hey climate scientist, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Climate scientist: I don't believe a Creator exist let alone that one allows freewill.

    AGW Skeptic: Einstein was right: Science without the [Creator] is blind and religion without the [Creator] is lame.

    Climate scientist: Silence skeptic! We must sacrifice your rights and do what's best for society as we see fit. Don’t you know science is a democracy fool!

    AGW Skeptic: Ben Franklin was right.

    CRU emails: Burn the Skeptic’s book!!


    Hey Hillary, Nancy, Harry, Obama, progressive intellectuals and Dems, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Choir: We must sacrifice the rights of the individual and do what’s best for society.

    Who decides what’s best? Certainly not society -see Obamacare.

    Choir: From one, many -see Obamacare.

    Al Gore: e pluribus unum - from one, many. The science is settled! Everybody knows science is a democracy - the skeptics are trying to turn science upside down - leading to backwards conclusions.

    Saul Alinsky: Pick a target, freeze it, smear it, ridicule it.

    Professor: The founders were racist capitalist pig slave holders.

    Common Sense: I see a pattern: Professor with all due respect the Founding Fathers knew they couldn’t fight the Civil War before the American Revolution or shortly thereafter and remain United States. They were wise enough to put mechanisms in place though.

    Hey JournoList, do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    JournoList: We must sacrifice the profession and do what is best for society.

    Hey Islamic radicals. Do you believe Our Creator allows freewill?

    Radical Islam ______________

  • MJ||

    "The CLASS Act was passed in a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals (it was one of Ted Kennedy's longstanding priorities), and the Department of Health and Human Services immediately began the detailed work of writing the implementing regulations to get it up and running. And guess what? They did their work honestly and conscientiously."

    The government can lie as much as it wants at the front end as long as it corrects that at the back end? Furthermore, does not CLASS constitute most of the deficit reducing assumptions the rest of Obamacare was passed on? Since those supposed savings are never going to be realized because they can never be realized, does not that make Obamacare a failure?

    Unless, of course, the supposed reduction in costs was never an actual goal of the people who passed it.

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