In case you missed it, the big tech story this week was Google’s announcement that they’ll soon be selling custom-built cellphones made to a customer’s exact specifications. Want a phone with a keyboard, a 12-hour battery, and 64 gigs of memory, but have no use for a camera? Your arbitrary wish is their command! Or how about one with only 32 gigs of memory but a 10 megapixel camera and one of those new fingerprint-sensor dealies? Just check the boxes and Google’ll make it happen!
The future is going to be an exciting time for cellphone-buying; an era in which the consumer’s individual preferences are finally given priority over the closed “take-it-or-leave-it” system of years past, in which customers were forced to pick from a narrow menu of closed models that forced them to pay outlandish fixed prices to get features they neither wanted nor needed.
In short, getting a cell phone will be virtually the exact opposite of buying healthcare in the post-Obamacare era.
In seeking to alleviate fears that his Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the socialist boogeyman Republicans were constantly crying, one of president Obama’s most oft-repeated catch phrases in the run-up to the bill’s passage (and subsequent promotional tour) was the claim that “if you like your current insurance plan, you can keep it.” Obamacare is only concerned with America’s uninsured, was the subtext; even a man as proudly progressive as Obama would never dream of tampering with the uniquely all-American right to keep and bear private insurance free from government meddling.
It didn’t take long for that promise to unravel. As the ACA has begun to slowly take effect, the headlines have been ripe with stories about Americans who like their employer-provided health insurance just fine, but can no longer keep it because they work for low-wage firms like Walgreen’s or Home Depot. Since the ACA imposes new standards of “minimum coverage” — that is, even the worst plans must henceforth provide “10 essential health benefits” that run the gamut from drug addiction counseling to children’s dentistry — it’s proven more cost-effective for some workplaces to simply give their employees a fixed payout and dump them into the Obamacare insurance exchange market, which — providing the website works — will make it the workers’ problem to find a plan that does all the things the ACA wants. But that search doesn’t come cheap; minimum coverage standards have also caused a lot of insurance firms to hike their premiums to compensate for all the new medical procedures they’re suddenly expected to pay for.
Even more ominous than that, however, was the bombshell revealed this week by NBC that anywhere between 50% to 80% of the 14 million Americans who currently purchase health insurance as individuals — the self-employed, small business employees and whatnot — may soon be kicked off their plans as well.
Again, ACA regulations are to blame. So long as the government bossily demands all insurance plans fulfil some base criteria, consumers can no longer legally purchase bare-bones insurance that, while chintzy in terms of coverage, may still be the most reasonable option for frugal Americans willing to trade low premiums for sub-optimal care. In a sop to this mindset, the ACA was originally going to “grandfather” in current holders of such sub-optimal plans, but according to NBC, shortly after the law passed, the federal health department quickly drew up implementation loopholes stating that a plan’s “grandfather” status stops the minute the plan changes in any middling bureaucratic way — say a definition is changed somewhere — something most health insurance companies do to their plans many times a year. Add in the fact that the grandfathering cutoff date was March 23, 2010 and you can see how an 80% droppage rate is starting to sound plausible.
As a provocateur of public outrage, separating millions of Americans from their existing health insurance plans and setting them adrift in a marketplace of rising premiums would be bad enough, but what makes the mess rise to the level of outright scandal was the additional NBC revelation that the Obama administration knew this was going to happen from the very beginning.
Health department memos from as early as 2010 speculated openly about the massive numbers of American health insurance holders — both individually-insured and employer-backed — who were likely to be booted from their existing coverage as a result of the ACA, with the most damning document being a 2010 HSS study concluding that as many as 93 million Americans would be unable to keep their current health plans by 2013 thanks to the new obligatory coverage standards.
Yet the President continued spouting his if-you-like-it-you-can-keep-it one liner for years. He roared it at party rallies, he asserted it during TV interviews, he shouted it at Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election. It was, as mentioned, one of his primary parries against accusations he was some kinda far-left big government tyrant, and a soothing comfort that made unprecedented health insurance reform palatable to the nervous majority of Americans who already owned it.
In politics, one sometimes speaks of a “political lie” as being distinct from the “real,” more serious sort. When George W. Bush went around saying he was a “uniter, not a divider” committed to bipartisan compromise, for instance, that was a “political lie” in the sense of being one of those empty marketing falsehoods politicians constantly throw around to get elected — the political equivalent of rubbish advertisements that claim “half the calories, but same great taste” or whatever. When President Nixon, in contrast, said that he had no knowledge of the Watergate burglary — and it certainly didn’t involve anyone from his administration — that was a lie of considerably more significance, since it represented a deliberate effort to prevent the American people from obtaining accurate information about his own (possibly criminal) wrongdoing.
I’m not sure if “if you like your current insurance, you can keep it” quite rises to the level of a Nixonian deception, but considering the evidence is now clear that the executive branch knew almost immediately upon the ACA’s passage that such a promise was never going to be honoured for at least 90 million Americans, there aren’t any good excuses for the President to have peddled it as long as he did. The damage-controllers of course, will claim that Obama was out of the loop when it came to monitoring minutia as trivial as who his signature health care legislation would or wouldn’t cover — just as this supposedly details-driven president was said to be conveniently in the dark about most of his administration’s other details-centric screw-ups, from the Fast and Furious Mexican gun-running scheme, to the Benghazi embassy attacks, to the IRS’ targeted auditing of Tea Party groups, to much of what the NSA’s been up to.
Perhaps then, a better presidential analogy might be Ronald Reagan, or at least the left’s cruel slogan about his involvement in Iran-Contra: “stupid if he didn’t know, a liar if he did.”
Either way, probably not the sort of person you want managing your health care.