“Who Hates Obamacare?”: Progressives Should Not Be Trash-Talking Progress And Impugning Motives Of People On Their Side
Ted Cruz had a teachable moment in Iowa, although he himself will learn nothing from it. A voter told Mr. Cruz the story of his brother-in-law, a barber who had never been able to afford health insurance. He finally got insurance thanks to Obamacare — and discovered that it was too late. He had terminal cancer, and nothing could be done.
The voter asked how the candidate would replace the law that might have saved his brother-in-law if it had been in effect earlier. Needless to say, all he got was boilerplate about government regulations and the usual false claims that Obamacare has destroyed “millions of jobs” and caused premiums to “skyrocket.”
So Mr. Cruz has a truth problem. But what else can we learn from this encounter? That the Affordable Care Act is already doing enormous good. It came too late to save one man’s life, but it will surely save many others. Why, then, do we hear not just conservatives but also many progressives trashing President Obama’s biggest policy achievement?
Part of the answer is that Bernie Sanders has chosen to make re-litigating reform, and trying for single-payer, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. So some Sanders supporters have taken to attacking Obamacare as a failed system.
We saw something similar back in 2008, when some Obama supporters temporarily became bitter opponents of the individual mandate — the requirement that everyone buy insurance — which Hillary Clinton supported but Mr. Obama opposed. (Once in office, he in effect conceded that she had been right, and included the mandate in his initiative.)
But the truth is, Mr. Sanders is just amplifying left-wing critiques of health reform that were already out there. And some of these critiques have merit. Others don’t.
Let’s start with the good critiques, which involve coverage and cost.
The number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply, especially in states that have tried to make the law work. But millions are still uncovered, and in some cases high deductibles make coverage less useful than it should be.
This isn’t inherent in a non-single-payer system: Other countries with Obamacare-type systems, like the Netherlands and Switzerland, do have near-universal coverage even though they rely on private insurers. But Obamacare as currently constituted doesn’t seem likely to get there, perhaps because it’s somewhat underfunded.
Meanwhile, although cost control is looking better than even reform advocates expected, America’s health care remains much more expensive than anyone else’s.
So yes, there are real issues with Obamacare. The question is how to address those issues in a politically feasible way.
But a lot of what I hear from the left is not so much a complaint about how the reform falls short as outrage that private insurers get to play any role. The idea seems to be that any role for the profit motive taints the whole effort.
That is, however, a really bad critique. Yes, Obamacare did preserve private insurance — mainly to avoid big, politically risky changes for Americans who already had good insurance, but also to buy support or at least quiescence from the insurance industry. But the fact that some insurers are making money from reform (and their profits are not, by the way, all that large) isn’t a reason to oppose that reform. The point is to help the uninsured, not to punish or demonize insurance companies.
And speaking of demonization: One unpleasant, ugly side of this debate has been the tendency of some Sanders supporters, and sometimes the campaign itself, to suggest that anyone raising questions about the senator’s proposals must be a corrupt tool of vested interests.
Recently Kenneth Thorpe, a respected health policy expert and a longtime supporter of reform, tried to put numbers on the Sanders plan, and concluded that it would cost substantially more than the campaign says. He may or may not be right, although most of the health wonks I know have reached similar conclusions.
But the campaign’s policy director immediately attacked Mr. Thorpe’s integrity: “It’s coming from a gentleman that worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. It’s exactly what you would expect somebody who worked for B.C.B.S. to come up with.” Oh, boy.
And let’s be clear: This kind of thing can do real harm. The truth is that whomever the Democrats nominate, the general election is mainly going to be a referendum on whether we preserve the real if incomplete progress we’ve made on health, financial reform and the environment. The last thing progressives should be doing is trash-talking that progress and impugning the motives of people who are fundamentally on their side.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 5, 2016
“Skeletal Descriptions Of Planlike Concepts”: How The Presidential Race Is Making The GOP’s Health Care Ideas Even Worse
Every major national Republican is sure that they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They are much less clear about what, if anything, they would do after stripping insurance from millions of people. Two plausible Republican nominees for president — Scott Walker and Marco Rubio — issued health care plans this week. And…let’s just say there’s a reason Republicans spend a lot more time on the “repeal” part of the “repeal and replace” equation.
Indeed, to call these positions “plans,” as opposed to gestures in the direction of having a policy alternative, is probably too generous. As Jon Chait of New York puts it, they are “not so much plans as skeletal descriptions of planlike concepts.” Still, even in larval form, Walker’s plan contains several elements that are common to most Republican health care proposals, and that if enacted would result in horribly unpopular policy disasters. Here are the main features:
End the individual mandate
Most individual components of the Affordable Care Act are popular; the requirement that people carry insurance or pay a tax penalty is not. And since the mandate was very nearly the lever that gave a conservative Supreme Court majority a pretext to declare the ACA unconstitutional, Republicans have also convinced themselves that it is one of the greatest threats to liberty ever seen. So it is inevitable that any Republican proposal will advocate eliminating it, as Walker’s does.
The problem is that the popular parts of the ACA can’t be divorced from the mandate. If people are permitted to free-ride, the health insurance market can’t work. Multiple states tried to initiate ACA-like reforms without a mandate, and it was a disaster — young and healthy people decline to buy insurance knowing they can get it if they fall sick, premiums increase, more people drop out, and the market collapses. This is why President Obama — who pandered during the 2008 primaries by putting forward a plan without a mandate — recanted as soon as he was in a position to actually try to get a law passed.
Make state regulations ineffective
Whenever conservatives have a policy they would prefer not to defend on the merits, the language of federalism comes in handy. In health care, virtually all Republican plans argue for permitting the purchase of insurance across state lines. Walker’s is no exception: “My plan would allow individuals to shop in any state to find health insurance that covers the services they need at a price that fits the family budget.”
In the abstract, a policy of permitting people to shop for insurance across state lines sounds attractive. In practice, it would be a regulatory race to the bottom. Insurance companies would gravitate to the states that place the fewest regulations on insurance industries. It would therefore become easier for insurance companies to deny claims, rescind insurance (or refuse to give it in the first place), and impose hidden costs. If you think credit card companies should be a model for health insurance companies, then Walker’s plan might sound like a good idea. If you’re thinking more clearly, it’s obviously a terrible one.
Make it easier to sell junk insurance
Walker’s plan would reduce federal regulations as well. The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance actually cover things would be eliminated, as would other provisions such as the popular requirement that children be allowed to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26. Other provisions of the ACA, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, would be seriously weakened. So at the same time as Walker’s plan would effectively eliminate many state regulations, it would also leave the insurance companies mostly unsupervised by federal regulations as well.
Conservatives would defend this awful idea by posing a choice between “regulation” and “competition.” But the problem is that health care simply lacks the features of a competitive market. There’s a reason why other liberal democracies have more state intervention into health care than the United States, not less. And by the way, they all cover more people for significantly less money.
Attack the poor
Walker’s politics are not about small government. After all, he thinks that abortion should be illegal even when necessary to save a woman’s life, and he just approved a $250 million gift of taxpayer money to hedge fund billionaires to build a basketball stadium. Rather, his politics are about assisting the rich and powerful at the expense of the poorer and less powerful.
His health care plan is no exception. Like the ACA, Walker’s plan would offer tax credits to allow people to purchase insurance. But Walker’s tax credits would be distributed on the basis of age, not income. The result, as Jeffrey Young and Jon Cohn demonstrate, would be a disaster for the non-affluent, as insurance would become unaffordable for many people at any age. And in addition, Walker also advocates savage cuts to Medicaid. The callousness Walker showed in refusing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin is reflected in his health care plans.
So Walker’s plan would be an utter disaster if implemented. But it’s not just about Walker. Amazingly, some conservative candidates and pundits attacked Walker’s plan from the right. A spokesman for also-ran candidate Bobby Jindal accused Walker of collaborating with Bernie Sanders to create a plan that would make health care far less accessible to the non-rich.
Essentially, Republicans look at the state of health care circa 2009 — in which more than 16 percent of Americans were uninsured, and in which insurance companies could abuse consumers in a number of ways — and argue that even fewer Americans should have insurance and the quality of the insurance should be much worse. This is one of the many reasons that the contemporary Republican Party is simply unfit to govern at the national level.
By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, August 21, 2015
“GOP Bad Faith Legal Mischief”: Democrats Have Every Reason To Save Republicans From An Obamacare “Bloodletting”
Sometime this month, possibly as early as Monday morning, the Supreme Court will issue its ruling in King v. Burwell. If the Court ignores both the text and purpose of the Affordable Care Act, and rules for the challengers, millions of the law’s beneficiaries in 34 states will quickly lose their insurance subsidies and be forced off their health plans. The ensuing chaos would be the consequence not just of the ruling itself, but also of the Republican Party’s expected unwillingness to pass a one-sentence bill clarifying that Obamacare subsidies are available in every state, whether or not each state established its own health insurance exchange.
When King, and similar cases, were first conceived, they quickly became vessels of hope for conservatives, who recognized how difficult and punishing it would be to hobble or eliminate Obamacare through the legislative process. What many of them have come to recognize in the subsequent years is that farming out the job to the judiciary can’t spare them from the subsequent political cost: As decision day approaches, more and more of these conservatives are acknowledging candidly—and typically anonymously—that they will suffer badly if the Supreme Court does the very thing they’ve asked the Supreme Court to do.
“The most likely option is that Congress is unable to pass a fix,” an anonymous Republican Hill staffer told Joel Gehrke of the conservative National Review—a magazine that has beseeched the Court to void the subsidies. “Either Republicans won’t be able to settle on a fix or the president will veto whatever we do come up with. At that point, it will be up to the governors to pass their own laws deeming the national exchange a state exchange. That is the path of least resistance.”
Gehrke looks at the cross-pressures Republicans would face after a ruling for King and wonders whether they “could be in for a bloodletting.” Though they can’t admit it publicly, the promise of a bloodletting—compounded by the fact that every vulnerable Republican senator in cycle next year represents an affected state—is precisely why so many Republicans privately hope the Court will uphold the subsidies.
If the conventional wisdom which took shape after oral arguments—and to which I subscribe—is correct, the government will win, and this painful exercise in bad faith legal mischief will come to nothing. But if the challengers win, and a bloodletting ensues, Democrats won’t be able to stand back while Republicans absorb the political damage. Bloodletting or no, Obamacare will be crippled in most states. It could easily remain crippled indefinitely. Its fate will turn on the question of whether the political consequences for Republicans resemble the consequences of a government shutdown or collision with the debt limit. But either way Democrats will have to play an active role in bringing about a resolution.
The best-case scenario for Democrats is a public outcry so severe and sustained that Republicans cave, and agree to restore the subsidies with a clean fix.
Republicans have tacitly acknowledged that they won’t be able to sit on their hands while state insurance markets collapse. They have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would restore subsidies, but only for existing beneficiaries, and only on conditions Democrats could never accept, like the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.
You can interpret these offers in two ways. The first, as Greg Sargent of The Washington Post has noted, is that these bills are designed to be vetoed, allowing Republicans to blame an uncompromising Obama for perpetuating the crisis. But they could also serve as bases for a compromise, or surrender. If the public responds to a ruling for King the way they’ve responded to other GOP-instigated crises, Republicans would have to scale back their demands and eventually agree to reinstate the subsidies, perhaps for a modest price.
Two different forces will push in that direction. Even if sprinkled liberally with poison pills, and even if its proximate purpose is to invite a veto, Republican-sponsored legislation to partially reinstate ACA subsidies probably can’t pass. Democrats aren’t going to vote for an ersatz fix and neither will many rank-and-file conservative members of Congress. “As soon as the messaging is out there saying, ‘Look, a half-a-sentence fix saves millions of people from either losing their coverage or having massive spikes,’ we as a party won’t be able to sustain that pressure very long — certainly not through the August recess,” another Republican aide tells Gehrke.
But that doesn’t mean Democrats will win a standoff outright. Though their case for a clean fix will be compelling, they will also be highly motivated to reinstate the subsidies immediately, even if it means Republicans get to pocket unreciprocated concessions. Those can’t include structural damage to the core of the law, but could include eliminating things like the medical device tax and the employer mandate.
Real danger arises if, per Gehrke’s other source, an adverse King ruling registers somewhere below a government shutdown on the political Richter scale, inflicting damage on the GOP but not enough to make them seek a solution in earnest. Against the backdrop of a paralyzed Congress, Obamacare would begin to unravel in dozens of states, and would continue to do so until at least 2017. A ruling for the challengers would boomerang violently on Republicans, but Democrats have every reason in the world to want them spared from it.
By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 8, 2015
When it comes to the insanity surrounding the King v. Burwell case, we already have a pretty good sense of most of the relevant angles. We know who supports the ridiculous case and why, what happens if Republican justices go along with this dangerous nonsense, how many families will suffer and where, etc.
We don’t, however, know much about the specific plaintiffs themselves.
Remember, when challenging a federal law, it’s not enough for someone to get a lawyer, go to court, and demand the law be struck down. In the American system, plaintiffs need standing – litigants have to demonstrate that a law harms them in some direct way.
And so, in the painfully absurd King v. Burwell case, anti-healthcare lawyers went out and found four people willing to sue because they’re eligible under the Affordable Care Act for insurance subsidies. They’ve been largely overlooked, but given the possibility that this case will end access to medical care for millions of families, it seems like a good time to ask, “Who are these people who want to destroy the American health care system?”
Stephanie Mencimer reports today on all four of the plaintiffs, and it’s quite a collection of folks. For example, David King of King v. Burwell notoriety, “brought up Benghazi” when asked about the anti-healthcare lawsuit. Rose Luck believes President Obama may be the “anti-Christ” and was elected by “his Muslim people.” But a Virginia woman Brenda Levy stood out as especially significant.
What was more surprising, though, was that she said she didn’t recall exactly how she had been selected as a plaintiff in the case to begin with. “I don’t know how I got on this case. I haven’t done a single thing legally. I’m gonna have to ask them how they found me,” she told me. She thought lawyers involved with the case may have contacted her at some point and she had decided to “help ‘em out.” […]
When I asked her if she realized that her lawsuit could potentially wipe out health coverage for millions, she looked befuddled. “I don’t want things to be more difficult for people,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of throwing people off their health insurance.”
Her case, whether Levy realizes it or not, exists to throw people off their health insurance.
She added that she intends to go to D.C. for the Supreme Court’s oral arguments “It’s an adventure,” Levy said. “Like going to Paris!”
Complicating matters further, three of the four plaintiffs are finding their standing suddenly facing new scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that King “appears to qualify for veterans’ medical coverage, raising questions about his ability to challenge the law.”
The plaintiffs have persuaded courts to hear their case on the grounds that the subsidies allegedly harm them by subjecting them to the law’s requirement to carry insurance or pay a penalty. Without the subsidies, insurance would be too expensive for them, they contend, thus making them exempt from having to pay the fine for lacking insurance.
But Mr. King could avoid paying that fine or any insurance premiums because, according to him and his attorneys, he served in the Army in Vietnam. That qualifies him for medical coverage with no premiums through the Department of Veterans Affairs, benefits and legal experts say. In an interview at his home here, Mr. King said he had been to a VA medical center and had a VA identification card, which typically serves as proof of VA-care enrollment.
Legal experts say the fact that Mr. King could avoid paying the penalty for lacking insurance by enrolling in VA coverage undermines his legal right to bring the case, known as “standing.” The wife of a second plaintiff has described her husband on social media as being a Vietnam veteran. The government previously questioned the standing of a third plaintiff on the grounds that her income may exempt her from paying the penalty for lacking insurance, but a lower court didn’t address the issue.
Levy, the one who doesn’t want to throw people off their health insurance despite her role as a plaintiff in this case, will qualify for Medicare this June – which would remove her from the ACA coverage system anyway.
These fresh details reinforce the impression that the entire King v. Burwell case seems like a transparent scam, and as the WSJ added, the standing issues “could create skepticism about the strength of the challengers’ case and highlight the difficulty of finding plaintiffs to show the health law’s subsidies harm Americans.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 9, 2015
“The Obamacare Plaintiffs And Medicare”: Maybe They’d Love Obamacare If The Hated President’s Name Wasn’t On It
Politico‘s Jennifer Haberkorn scored a bit of a scoop by convincing the chief plantiff in the King v. Burwell litigation, David King, to let her into his Fredericksburg, VA living room, apparently because he didn’t want to leave her shivering on his front doorstep. Most of what she tells about him, though, seems to come from his recent social media expressions rather than from anything he said to her in person:
The man who could cripple Obamacare isn’t shy about telling the world that he thinks the president is an “idiot,” posting altered images of the first lady in Middle Eastern clothing and expressing his hatred for the “Democraps” who enacted the health care law.
Greg Sargent, however, finds something more interesting to examine about King and a couple of his co-plaintiffs:
[I]t’s fascinating that King is less than a year away from qualifying for Medicare. As it happens, Politico reports that two of the other four challengers are 64 and 63, also putting them very close to qualifying. Remember, this lawsuit is all about the plaintiff’s objection to being subjected to the individual mandate’s requirement that they get insurance. The plaintiffs are claiming injury because Virginia is on the federal exchange, which, they say, means they should not be getting the subsidies which are necessary under the law to require them to get insurance under the mandate. Yet three of the challengers are very close to having the mandate canceled for them by Medicare. (One, it should be noted, is 56 years old.)
It would be really interesting to know what these challengers think of Medicare, given their role in a lawsuit that could go a long way towards gutting the coverage guarantee for millions of Americans.
Unfortunately, we cannot answer Greg’s question yet, if ever. Maybe these folk share the not uncommon belief of seniors that Medicare is an “earned benefit” (at most half-true) in contrast to the “welfare” nature of Obamacare (again, at most half-true). Maybe they don’t like Medicare as it is but would like to “reform” it–though the most common Republican proposal for “reform” is to convert Medicare from being a defined government-provided benefit to a means-tested system of public subsidies for private insurance purchases like Obamacare. Maybe they’d love Obamacare if the hated president’s name wasn’t on it. It’s hard to say. But whatever their reasons, they’re willing to force millions of people who aren’t on the brink of qualifying for Medicare into a health care wilderness. No wonder they don’t want to give interviews.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, February 6, 2015