Nothing Is Free

As we begin the second month of the six-month Obamacare enrollment period, it is becoming more and more apparent what an unmitigated disaster the Affordable Care Act is. The president is reeling from the botched rollout, with a recent NBC/WSJ poll finding only 42 percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 51 percent disapprove. The same poll only two weeks earlier, when many people thought the setbacks were only temporary, had Obama’s approval to disapproval at 47-48 percent, a net drop of 8 points.

The most disturbing part about that poll for President Obama is the fact that the polling took place before the real fallout from the health-care law began. The first real shoe to drop was when millions of Americans began getting letters from their insurance companies, explaining that they could no longer offer them the coverage they had until that point, as they were no longer legal under the ACA. Instead, they were offering a new plan, often for a higher price, and with less effective coverage, which met the “standards” set by HHS under the health-care law.

That in and of itself would not have been so damaging, had the president not said over and over again that “if you like the plan that you have now, you can keep it” when selling the law. And the president has tried to downplay the negative effects of this by calling the now-cancelled plans “substandard,” claiming that nobody could really want those plans, if they had the option of getting the plans approved by HHS.

Leaving aside the fact that the “new and improved” plans contain mandated benefits for things not needed by those covered (like pediatric dental care for those without children), the idea that the way to deal with these plans is to make them illegal is ludicrous. One can only wonder how many of those who are having their plan cancelled would choose to keep that “substandard” plan while still paying the $95 individual mandate fee/tax. For many, this would be a cheaper option, as the difference between the old and new plans is more than $8 a month. The ACA doesn’t allow for this to happen, as regulations do not allow insurance companies to offer these plans — even if that is what the market wants.

The reason the law has to make those plans illegal is the simple fact that it would incentivize staying out of the ACA-approved plan market — the exchanges. For the more than 3 million people (so far) who have lost their insurance coverage, the only other option is to buy a plan with coverage they don’t need — or risk going without any coverage at all. These are people who have paid their own way the last year in the individual insurance market (without employer contributions) and very likely are not willing to risk remaining without insurance at all going forward. Making people pay for benefits they don’t want or need and will never use is the law’s way of bringing the costs down for those who need it. (It also serves as a way to benefit the president politically, as introducing 3 million more people into the “exchange” market goes a long way toward helping meet the goal of 7 million enrollees.) And it is now that the average American is seeing what the Obamacare critics have tried to illustrate, that ultimately, the “Affordable Care” Act isn’t affordable.

A recent L.A Times story (“Some Health Insurance Gets Pricier as Obamacare Rolls Out,” October 26) quotes Pam Kehaly, president of Anthem Blue Cross in California, regarding a letter she received from a customer complaining about a 50 percent increase in her premium. “She said, ‘I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it,’” said Kehaly.

And that is the great fatal flaw of the grand entitlement state. When politicians talk about taking care of the poor, the elderly and the infirm via government programs, seldom, if ever, does the conversation cover who pays for it. For example, when the extra money budgeted for food stamps from the 2009 stimulus package ran out, and the benefit returned to the pre-stimulus levels, this was widely reported as a “benefit cut.” Reports of impoverished families who struggle to get by on the reduced benefit led lawmakers to call for the reinstatement of these monies. To the casual bystander, this appeal tugs at the heartstrings and those who oppose expansion of the program appear heartless. This is why the advocates for forever expanding the welfare state tend to get their way — the emotional plea is too hard to combat with facts. It is the truth, as Ronald Reagan said, that “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So governments’ programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

But now, the president has done what no Republican was ever able to accomplish before. He provided tangible proof to every single American that government entitlements come with a cost, and that burden is carried by every single American. And while the pursuit of universal health coverage is an admirable one that most people can sympathize with, and even support, they tend to be less excited about it when they find out that they are paying for it.