Early Obamacare Advocate Goes Missing as Program Flounders

Peter Orszag is strangely silent since the reforms he wanted have been made.


Where is Peter Orszag now?

Orszag was the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget for the first year and a half of the Obama administration. Other than President Obama himself, he's the person most identified with the argument that health reform was necessary to save the government money.

"Reducing health care cost growth is the key to our fiscal future," Orszag wrote in one White House blog post back in October of 2009. "As the President has repeatedly emphasized: Doing nothing is the surest way to fiscal failure, while reform is the best path for fiscal responsibility."

Or, as Obama himself put it in an address to a Joint Session of Congress in September of 2009: "Our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close. "

President Obama is emphasizing the cost-control aspect of his health-care overhaul less these days. In his talk the other day to the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, Obama said, "With respect to the Affordable Care Act, I think people are legitimately concerned because we have a major problem with health care in this country — 41 million people without health insurance, a lot of people underinsured."

The two sales pitches for the law — helping the uninsured, and saving the taxpayers money — are not mutually exclusive. But it's a lot harder to go around claiming that ObamaCare is necessary to save taxpayers money when the law's most visible signature achievement so far is a Web site on which the government spent hundreds of millions of dollars, a site that does not work.

The HealthCare.gov debacle sure makes it look like rather than saving taxpayer money, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is wasting taxpayer money. It's an impression only furthered by reports like one in today's Boston Herald, which brings in the news that "A stunning 40 percent of the staff at the state agency that oversees the glitch-plagued, befuddling $69 million Obamacare website earn six-figure salaries."

As a kind of fallback, Obama has resorted to arguing that somehow, the Affordable Care Act is controlling health care costs even before many of its key provisions have taken effect. "We also have seen health care costs growing at the slowest rate in 50 years. Employer-based health costs are growing at about one-third of the rate of a decade ago, and that has an impact on your bottom line," Obama said to that same Wall Street Journal CEO Council audience.

There, Obama is trying to take credit for something that was happening before his health care law was passed. A 50-year low in growth of health spending was back in 2009 — before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. As Charles Blahous points out in a commentary for Economic Policies for the 21stCentury, the effect of the health reform law, at least in the short term, has been to increase costs, not to decrease them; Blahous calls the cost reduction claim about as credible as the "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan" claim that has become a late-night laugh line.

Speaking of comedy, that's where some of the most incisive commentary on ObamaCare is coming from these days. Bartley's, a hamburger restaurant in Harvard Square, has added to its menu the ObamaCare burger: "Nobody knows what's in it!…Ask the liberal sitting next to you." (Cost: "$ Trillions.") Even the liberal New Yorker magazine's resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, jokes that Ayatollah Khamenei, "told reporters today his nation agreed to a deal on its nuclear program in the hopes that it would distract attention from the trouble-plagued rollout of Obamacare."

"It's true, we've resisted any deal on nukes for over three decades," the Ayatollah said, according to the humorous dispatch in the New Yorker. "But when we saw how much trouble Obama was having with his Web site, we realized it would be uncaring of us not to try to help him out."

As for Orszag, his usually weekly Bloomberg View column has gone on what the columnist described in an email to me as a "quick sabbatical." His only column since October 7 was one about a housing bubble in New Zealand. Orszag, now a Citigroup executive and newly returned from a three-week trip to Asia, says he will address the issues with Healthcare.gov in a future column.

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  1. Hey, the man has his families to support.

  2. Is the program floundering or foundering? Discuss.

    1. It’s reboundering!

      Oh, semi On topic:

      Washington State’s exchange program, touted by the Seattle Times as going swimmingly, turns out to not be going so swimmingly after all.


      Less than a third of the calls in October were “handled.” The rest of the callers were told by a recorded voice to call back later, or they hung up rather than waiting to talk to a representative.

    2. That’s really too bad.
      Grammarist.com has a good entry on this.

    3. Both. It sinks as it stumbles.

  3. We know about Flounder, but where is Pinto?

    1. Stuck in the beans. Or ran out of gas.

  4. know why Orszag has gone so quiet since the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov and Obamacare.

    Because he’s responding in a totally rational way?

    1. He’s waiting for something – anything – positive to write about Obamacare.

  5. President Obama is emphasizing the cost-control aspect of his health-care overhaul less these days.

    Cost cutting was always a red-herring. It was a bone thrown to… thrown to… hmm.. republicans(?) who sometimes give lip service to controlling budgets.

    The real point of the reform was to get people into the program.

    The Democrats truly believed that there were 322 million uninsured people in this country, lining the streets with their chronic conditions and lack of affordable birth control. The goal was ultimately… to get uninsured people insured. Cost be damned.

    Anyone who actually believed that Obamacare or any government healthcare plan would “control costs” hasn’t been paying attention or is too young to have been able to pay attention long enough.

    1. The goal was ultimately… to get uninsured people insured.

      Bullshit. The goal was always to increase government power.


      1. Well… yeah. That’s the Ultimate(tm) goal.

      2. More specifically, to increase the Democrat’s control of the government’s increasing power.


    2. They believed that every single citizen was uninsured… because the only real insurance is gov’t insurance.

    3. “The Democrats truly believed that there were 322 million uninsured people in this country, lining the streets with their chronic conditions and lack of affordable birth control.”

      In 57 states!

    4. The goal was ultimately… to get uninsured people insured. Cost be damned.

      Not to mention actual health care.

  6. Haven’t RTFA, but I’d imagine he’s too busy rolling in his heaps of cash.

  7. Hopefully one of Reason’s Obama fluffers will be along shortly and can explain exactly how the law is going to bend down the cost curve on healthcare.
    I’ve not seen a cogent case made yet.

    1. Something about preventative care.

      My best understanding of the argument is that healthcare is extremely cheap when you have a doctor staring up your ass 24/7.

      1. Actually no. The reason that insurance companies didn’t already offer preventative care was because it isn’t cost effective. The tests are expensive and relatively few people get any particular disease.

        If it saved money they would have already been doing it.

      2. It’s preventive care BTW.

    2. And you won’t.

    3. The best case study is the Oregon Medicaid study which found that there was no statistically significant improvement in patient physical outcomes but spending went up. And how does BarryCare achieve most of its increased coverage? That’s right: Medicaid.

      An interesting footnote is that the 2nd year of the study was supposed to have been released last summer before the election. Curiously Gruber (RomneyCare and Obamacare) et. al. delayed publication of the results until after the election. Feel free to call me cynical.

      1. NotAnotherSkippy|11.25.13 @ 6:41PM|#
        “The best case study is the Oregon Medicaid study which found that there was no statistically significant improvement in patient physical outcomes but spending went up.”

        Was this the same one where self-reported health improved simply by signing up (meaning receiving no care at all)?

        1. Yes, the only improvements measured were self-reported well-being before even seeing a doctor and a lower rate of catastrophic medical bills. We call the first result placebo, and the second result an inefficient way of delivering catastrophic insurance.

  8. I had this – about ‘prevention – talk with my wife the other day. She believes in prevention – as we should be up to a point. I explained to her, for example, helmet laws for cyclists. If they were to do that in our jurisdiction I would be pissed because I don’t like riding with one – call me old school. She said just because I haven’t gotten injured doesn’t mean it can’t happen and there is indeed an interest in my wearing my helmet – who wants to get hurt? But, there’s no evidence suggesting we need to have such laws in the first place. Head injuries are not an epidemic so forcing a law along those lines for ‘preventative’ measures just amounts to more burden on law enforcement and loss of liberty.

    1. If it saves one life, the crushing totalitarian state is totally worth it.

  9. …”President Obama is emphasizing the cost-control aspect of his health-care overhaul less these days.”

    Yeah, well, if there aren’t any ‘cost-control aspects’, it’s kinda hard to emphasize them.

  10. I just read an article saying that the latest fix to the Obamacare website implements queuing to reduce strain on the system. You really can’t write this stuff: apparently, bureaucracy is a “feature”, not an impediment.

  11. Did they check Fort Marcy Park?

  12. Here is the problem. Obama is a Marxist. Marxism uses lies as part of
    the protocol. Karl Marx advocated using dishonesty if it was used to
    reach the end goal of cause–the cause being communism. It is that simple. You cannot argue that is not what Obamacare is. If you make so much you do not get subsidy.
    And you pay higher premiums. It is right there in front of you on the
    website. Now I’ve gotten comments back. The comments are the top 1% of
    the wealthy own such amount of general wealth. That corporations are
    corrupt. That the monopolies in insurance are corrupt. All of this is
    true. I’m not a GOP fan. Global corporation is destroying us and the
    Republicans are to blame as much as the Democrats. One person commented
    back if I thought it was fair the poor pay higher rates on credit cards

    That has nothing to do with Obamacare. Those type of replies are
    nothing but bait and switch tactics to divert from the pertinent point.
    Does one man pay for Obamacare so another may not? It is that simple.
    The Progressive cannot come to gripes with this so he diverts to another
    topic. One pays so another may not. That is Marxism, by very

    I have written about this in my fiction. The
    Progressive, like the Marxist in 1917 Russia, will only realize his
    folly when it is too late. And 1917 Russia wasn’t fiction at all.

    Charles Hurst. Author of THE SECOND FALL. An offbeat story of Armageddon. And creator of THE RUNNINGWOLF EZINE. A true conservative’s weekly.Join the discussion?

  13. just before I looked at the receipt 4 $9739, I didn’t believe …that…my father in law was like actualey receiving money part-time on their apple laptop.. there uncles cousin has done this 4 only nineteen months and a short time ago cleared the mortgage on their place and bought Toyota. visit




    1. Are you a documented immigrant?

  14. This article was a missed opportunity to point out that there is no connection between the exponential growth in health care costs since WWII, and the ACA’s requirement that everybody carry insurance of a kind that is more generous that what most of us have at present. Moreover, the cost of health care to the public purse is unlikely to decline, given the amount of subsidies to which the poorer 50% of households will be entitled.

  15. When Orszag wrote his healthy-care columns and blogs, he was thinking out loud about ways to support his own – the $millions$ of skimmed Citigroup dollars aside. Subtle these Harvard guys.

  16. I think Obamacare is good.

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