When Will Liberals Answer for Obamacare's Failures?
Blaming Republicans not going to cut it.
These days, there's been a lot of discussion about conservative media's culpability in creating unrealistic expectations and warped priorities among Republican voters. It's a reasonable critique. My question: When are we going to have this conversation about the other side—you know, the one that enabled the passage of a massive partisan health care reform law that's failed to deliver on almost all its promises?
No doubt, you'll remember all those romantic charts and stories from the liberal smart set predicting Obamacare's affordability and success. Remember the jeering aimed at conservatives who argued that state-run markets inhibiting genuine competition and increasing regulations would only spur costs to rise? "Lies," liberals said.
In 2014, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne asked a valuable question: "Is there any accountability in American politics for being completely wrong?" The answer: Of course not. Not for conservative talkers—and definitely not for liberal pundits who keep modifying the meaning of success.
At the time, Dionne argued that the Affordable Care Act was doing exactly what its supporters had predicted, "getting health insurance to millions who didn't have it before." In reality, that was only one piece of Obamacare's promise, and even that accomplishment has been retroactively simplified to create an impression of unqualified success. Far from it.
Of course mandating and subsidizing health insurance will decrease the number of uninsured. Yet punditry on the left seems to be under the impression that coercing people to participate is revolutionary policymaking. Countless times in 2009, the president promised that exchanges would offer those newly insured Americans more quality "choices" and "affordability" and push down rates overall. (He promised the rest of us that health care premiums would fall by $2,500 for a family of four. Instead, they've risen by over $4,800.)
New administration data released this week find that Obamacare premiums will spike an average of 25 percent across the country for benchmark plans in 2017. Americans will be forced to forfeit plans they like or lose insurance altogether and accept a tax or fine—or whatever liberals are calling their state-enforced mandate these days.
But don't worry; consumers on exchanges will also have far fewer choices. The number of health insurance carriers in the exchanges will drop from 298 this year to 228 in 2017. In five states—Alaska, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming—there will be only one insurance company providing plans in 2017. It's one too many for many on the left.
Obamacare is working so well that Democrats are now pressuring Republicans to fix it and Hillary Clinton is arguing that to save it, we need a "public option"—a euphemism for a government-run insurance program. You can't save contrived marketplaces, because they never work. They don't work even when you allow cronyistic insurance companies to write policy. They don't work simply because technocrats massage numbers and cram them into a line chart.
Even as he was boasting about his signature achievement this past week, President Obama conceded that six years after passage, Obamacare is still experiencing "growing pains." You know, it's just like a "starter home," he said. "You hope that over time, you make some improvements."
Rest assured, those "improvements" never mean opening up markets or loosening restrictions. In other words, health care reform was exactly what many Republicans feared it would be: a way to incrementally socialize the system.
"We think they will ultimately be surprised by the affordability of the premiums, because the tax credits track with the increases in premiums," Kevin Griffis, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, reassured exchange users after the rate hikes were announced.
There are about 10 million customers who purchase their health care through HealthCare.gov and state-run offshoots. With no effective national reform in sight, that number will most likely grow. Although these consumers will have fewer choices, they will still receive financial assistance to offset the rate hikes. A spike in rates on the benchmark plans means more subsidies. Someone has to pay for what turns out to be little more than a new welfare program.
Unlike the media seers who saw Obamacare paying for itself—magically bending the cost curve in the right direction and creating vibrant pretend marketplaces that offer uninsured Americans an array of affordable choices—I can't see the future. The trajectory of the law, though, offers us two choices, broadly speaking.
Republicans could let the law die. They could then reform the health care system by allowing it to function more like every other successful market in the country—with minimal interference from politicians. Or we could all accept another giant unfunded liability, higher taxes and further socialization of our health care system. The only question will be how quickly it will happen. One thing's for sure, though. Despite all evidence, liberal cheerleaders of Obamacare will continue to act as if the law has been an awe-inspiring success.
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