Let’s give Cory Gardner credit, although not too much. But he was there first. He had the actual cancelled health insurance policy letter, which he keeps tucked in his inside jacket pocket during the day and under his pillow (OK, just guessing there) at night.
It was his ticket to the game. And even though he played it badly at first — saying his insurance costs were going to double when they clearly weren’t — he finally figured out his move, sort of.
He was the guy — or at least something like the guy — Barack Obama had, well, broken his promise to. And so he gets on national TV, says rude things to the HHS secretary while waving the paper as if he were David Ortiz swinging a bat.
Still, whatever his faults, he did have a point.
Obama had said, repeatedly, that if you liked your insurance, you could keep it. He had said it again and again and again. And each time he said it, it was wrong. He said it to assure people they weren’t going to be forced onto the exchanges if they didn’t want to go there — and he was wrong, mostly. It was, as New York’s Jonathan Chait put it, “somewhere between an oversimplification and a falsehood.”
What he meant to say — over all the noise about death panels and rationing and creeping socialism and long-form birth certificates — was that if you have good insurance, you can keep it. What he meant to say was what he said in Boston Thursday, “For the great majority of Americans …”
What he didn’t bargain for was that people would get a cancellation of their bad insurance — with the potentially ruinous lifetime caps, high deductibles, high co-payments, in some cases barely insurance at all — and they’d still want to keep it. It was a terrible misjudgment on Obama’s part because it goes to the root of why we so urgently needed health care reform.
Of course most people cling to their health insurance, even if it’s a bad policy, because they are desperate to have it. It’s as simple as this: Everyone with a pre-existing condition knows he or she is one boss’ phone call away from having no insurance.
And the urgency of this fact — of the tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured — made reform inevitable. If it was a moral question when Hillarycare was under debate, it was a financial necessity by the time Obamacare was pushed through a reluctant, recalcitrant, calcified Congress.
Of course, Obama also figured that when it came down to it, people would be able to go online — easy, he said, as buying on Amazon — to actually see the good deal they were getting. You know what happened instead. We finally have something we can all agree on — that the Obamacare rollout was the worst rollout ever.
And so, millions are getting the dreaded insurance-cancellation letter — because their policies don’t meet the new standards — without being able to see the alternative. Most of them will, in the end, get better insurance — the kind of insurance that actually insures you against medical-financial disaster. Some of them will get cheaper insurance. Many will get subsidized insurance, which is a key to making this thing work. Nearly every horror story you hear or read is from someone who has not gone onto the exchange sites to see what is available.
Jon Gruber, the MIT economist who helped develop Romneycare in Massachusetts as well as Obamacare, explained the situation to the New Yorker. He said that 80 percent of Americans won’t see any change to their insurance, 14 percent will get better insurance and 6 percent — those on the open insurance market — will see some change. But only half of those will end up paying more, and then for an improved plan. In other words, he puts those who win or stay the same at 97 percent and the potential losers at 3 percent.
“We have to as a society be able to accept that,” Gruber said. “Don’t get me wrong, that’s a shame, but no law in the history of America makes everyone better off.”
But of course, this argument is not about how many winners and losers there are — or about whether healthcare.gov is down. Investment in the failure of Obamacare is just as great as the investment in its success. That’s why we just endured a 16-day shutdown and nearly defaulted on our debt. These are glory days for those who argue that government programs don’t work, as if the Social Security checks didn’t arrive on time, as if the NSA couldn’t listen in on and (as far as we know) record every conversation in the world at the same time. That’s government for you.
There is no excuse for the tech failure, of course. It took Obama too long to understand the scope of the failure. It took him too long to acknowledge it. And because of that, his reassurances have tended to sound hollow.
It would have been easier, too, if there had been single-payer system or if we had gotten Medicare for all. Instead we got subsidies and mandates and complications in a bill that was derided for being too long and complex — but ended up being so long and complex, in part, in order to cover all the objections to making it easier.
But that’s all in the past. What matters now are the promises being made today — that the Web site will work, that the bad cancelled insurance will be replaced with better insurance, that the uninsured will be insured.
It isn’t that Obamacare is too big to fail. It’s that it’s far too important. No lie.
[ Image by Tim Pierce ]