Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Redistributing misery

I’m On November 24, the Fox News Sunday roundtable discussed Obamacare; you can see the entire segment here. At about 3:25, Chris Wallace asked a question, posing it first to Nina Easton from Forbes and then to Juan Williams:

Wallace: Nina, let’s assume - because at some point the website will start working - but we still have millions of people with cancelled policies. As it turns out this week, we’re finding out that doctors are not being included in a lot of these plans so the promise that “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor” is not true. From your reporting, as the next few months go on, will the experience of ObamaCare be better or worse for people?

Easton: I think George [Will] put his finger on it with that word “kerosense” because this was supposed to be a safety net program, this was supposed to make people feel more secure. What it’s doing is making people feel less secure. So, beyond the website problems, you’ve got now stories of cancellations, the Stage 4 cancer victim who suddenly doesn’t have coverage to go to her own doctors. You’ve got the child, this chronically sick child, who can’t go to the Seattle Children’s Hospital because the cost of that hospital is so high and they’re not included. You’ve got these stories after stories coming out now. And then you’ve got AIE coming out this week saying, well...

Wallace: American Enterprise Institute, conservative think tank.

Easton: American Enterprise Institute, conservative think tank. But it says, is predicting millions, tens of millions more cancellations by small businesses coming around next Fall deciding that - they got in under the line, it’s complicated, but they got in under the wire this time with their policies, but now they’re going to have to have Obama standard policies, and there’s going to be cancellations coming out there. So there’s this sense, this deep sense, of insecurity that I think has infused the body politic and it’s going to affect the 2014 elections.

Wallace: Juan.

Williams: Well, you know, I got to go talk with the President and senior officials at the White House this week and this topic came up and, I mean, and their position is, look, ObamaCare inherits all the problems of health care generally but no one was promising that everyone was going to the executive suite at the Mayo Clinic. The idea is that you had people who were uninsured, people who were underinsured, and what the Affordable Care Act does is to set minimum standards for networks to make sure that people have someplace to go and there were so many people who had no place to go and that’s what they’re addressing in trying to put in place this program. And yet, I mean the attacks, I think this is just, again, more attacks coming from Republicans who don’t like the plan. And guess what? I’ve gotten that message, I think the President and the White House has gotten it, they don’t like it. It’s what the White House now calls the original sin. They cannot work or expect Republicans to work with them to fix the plan.

My first reaction to Williams’ ludicrous response was that Williams (and presumably “the President and senior officials”) are totally clueless. The cancellations are not about an “executive” - presumably a middle-aged man who has spent his entire adult life smoking, drinking, eating too much, and chasing his secretary around the desk - now experiencing health problems and expecting the government to pay for his platinum-plated health care. The cancellations are about - as Easton says - seriously ill people, including children, who currently have good health care and are losing that care. To claim that someone with advanced cancer who wants to keep seeing the doctors that are keeping her alive is asking for the moon is just ridiculous. And to claim that parents who want their chronically ill children to keep getting the top-flight treatments that are helping those children are greedy pigs gorging at the public trough is disgusting.

Now, though, I think the response of Williams, et. al., reflects not cluelessness but a new overarching narrative: In order for the uninsured to get any insurance, those currently buying their own insurance in the individual market will have to get worse insurance - and any of the currently insured who object to this are selfish. In other words, it is right and just that those who have something should have less so those who have nothing can have more. This is naked redistribution in its starkest terms. And what ObamaCare redistributes is not just money - it’s lousy health insurance, uncertain health insurance, and the attendant fear and suffering. ObamaCare redistributes misery, taking it from those who haven’t had health insurance and giving it to those who have.

Is it good that people who have not been able to get health insurance can now get it? Yes, it is. Am I willing to pay little extra to help them get that health insurance? Yes, I am. Am I willing to make my own health insurance and, therefore, probably my own health care worse to help them? No, I am not. Am I willing to live with the uncertainty unleashed by ObamaCare and the realization that I have no recourse against the government’s ham-fisted “improvements” to my health insurance in order to help people without health insurance? No, I am not.

I’m willing to help people who cannot afford to buy food by having the government give them money, including some of my money. I am not willing to help them by having the government tell me what kinds of food I’m forbidden to buy, what kinds of food I’m required to buy, and what price I must pay for my food. I’m willing to help people who cannot afford to buy shelter by having the government give them money, including some of my money. I am not willing to help them by having the government tell me what rooms I’m forbidden to have in my home, what rooms I’m required to have in my home, and what price I must pay for my home. I’m willing to help people who cannot afford health insurance by having the government give them money, including some of my money. I am not willing to help them by having government tell me what health insurance I’m forbidden to buy, what insurance I’m required to buy, and how price I must pay.

Period. (Although, as someone pointed out to me recently, “period” just doesn’t mean what it once did.)



Mickey Kaus has some interesting posts on another anger-inducing aspect of ObamaCare: there is a very targeted, very visible monetary redistribution that has fallen not on all or most of the taxpayers in the country but only on those who are “over 400% of poverty unlucky enough to be in the famous 3% who are trapped in the individual insurance market”. (I actually think even many people who fall below 400% of poverty and therefore get subsidies may find themselves worse off financially once the high deductibles, limited networks, and scarcity of out-of-network plans manifest themselves - but that’s not yet a highly visible problem.) His points about how narrowly targeted this monetary redistribution is are also true for the misery redistribution I write about above.

You can read through Kaus’ recent posts - the ObamaCare ones are obvious from their titles - but here are snippets from a couple of them:

3 Problems with Today’s Obamacare Excuse:

It’s BS for Gruber to suggest that the current “small number” of losers is inevitable in any attempt to “fix” the insurance market. Obama could have constructed a reform along Medicare lines, with a large number of Americans who lost a little by virtue of paying higher taxes. [snip]

Instead Obama (and Gruber) created his “small” number of big losers–a seemingly arbitrary group (since they are only those affluent people who happen to be in the individual market). And, again,  it’s anger at that arbitrariness and unfairness Obamacare objectors are mainly expressing, not a general aversion to helping the poor.

Eddie Murphy in Reverse:

It would be one thing, after all, to tax everyone who made more than 400% of poverty and use the money to finance health care for the poor. It’s another to say that in any particular situation where the government has to charge for a service it can almost reflexively charge those who make over “400%FPL” more than other citizens. The first is standard broad-based redistribution (whatever you think of it). The second is a sort of branding, in which better-off people–and 400% of poverty, $62,040 for a couple,  is not that better off–are presumed fair targets for adverse discrimination on any given occasion. [snip]

If you want to produce a political rebellion, this seems like a good recipe: social inequality that disses the top 50% of society, including the heart of the middle class. There’s a reason Bill Clinton didn’t think of this.

And finally, What’s the Obamacare line today?. No snippet, just a fun read.


Grim said...

If you want to produce a political rebellion, this seems like a good recipe...


Elise said...

First, yes. I'm thinking I should change the subtitle of my blog to "Radicalized by ObamaCare". It's amazing - and embarrassing - how much being my being injured myself by overarching government "fixes" has changed my thinking about their value.

Second, I don't know what a political rebellion would look like. So many people seem to be utterly unwilling to vote Republican, however aggravated they are with Democrats.

Third, I'm coming around to the idea that ObamaCare and Obama's general lawlessness are just the new normal and nothing is going to change in response. That's related to my second point: people may realize this is all wrong but have no idea what to do about it.