Liar’s club

Liar’s club
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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.


  1. D. H.

    Wait, really? Fast and Furious? Benghazi? That IRS thing? I'm honestly pretty shocked to see you giving any weight to any of those fake scandals. NSA, sure; that's a real issue deserving real discussion. But /Benghazi/? Good God.

  2. J.j. McCullough

    Four Americans were killed due to security negligence at an overseas embassy. 60 Minutes did a good special on it the other day:

    One doesn't have to buy into the Republican conspiracy theory that there was some giant cover-up organized by Susan Rice or whatever to accept that the administration bears some responsibility for not ensuring better protection of an American mission in Libya in the aftermath of starting a war with the country.

  3. Ben

    JJ, for real? Security was limp because the State Dept. asked for more security for it and the funding was DENIED by the GOP house.

    "Security there is going to cost $10."
    "We're giving you $3."
    "People were just killed by lax security."

  4. Jake_Ackers

    If funding was the problem the White House and Hillary would of said that on day one. They have been skirting the truth ever sense it happened. The whole story hasn't been revealed yet from either side.

  5. Jake_Ackers

    So when a gun store can't keep track of who buys guns its horrible. But when the gov't can't keep track of the guns it gives to narco-terrorists. It's not horrible?

    Benghazi? The US failed to protect the US Ambassador. Plain and simple. Doesn't matter the reason.

    IRS? It's been proven it was politically motivated. If the administration won't show everything is happening then they are hiding something. Stop with the stalling tactics.

  6. Dan

    An ambassador killed in a terrorist attack isn't just something that happens.

  7. scott

    Actually it is, Dan, 13 consulates were attacked during Bush' tenure with nary a peep from either Conservatives in Congress OR the news media.

  8. Ricardo Bortolon

    To be fair, of those only the 2006 Karachi attack killed a US diplomat. All the others just killed people contracted by the US government, not employed by it. And certainly not an ambassador.

  9. Bill Stephens

    Intensive purposes? It's "intents and purposes."

    Just like it's "Commander in Chief," not "Commander and Chief."

  10. Jake_Ackers

    Thank you. Sorry I meant to edit my above comment. I said: If you don't protect the Ambassador which IS the USA for all [intents and] purposes, then who will you protect. And two wrongs don't make a right.

  11. zaitcev

    I don't know about that Benghazi thing either, but the IRS thing is not a "fake" scandal in any way. The ruling party was using IRS to punish political opponents, and they openly admitted it. How does any of this qualify for a "fake" moniker?

  12. D. H.

    "Bears some responsibility", okay, but it seems like we're doing some serious rounding up when we try and take these things together and say this raises the question of whether or not President Obama is boderline Nixonian.

  13. Ann Apolis

    "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."

    Well phew! I was worried for a moment that poor Americans couldn't afford decent health insurance, but it turns out they're just being careful with their money. If they wanted better insurance, they'd pay for it! It seems so simple now. I look forward to your future statements about how those unhappy with the quality of American bread 'should just buy cake instead, duh'.

  14. Just passing through

    You mean, "those who are unhappy with the price of cake will make do with bread instead, duh". As opposed to being forced to pay for the price of cake regardless of which product they were buying previously.

  15. KKoro

    "I was worried for a moment that poor Americans couldn't afford decent health insurance, but it turns out they're just being careful with their money."

    And they still can't afford it, is the problem. And to make it worse, many employers and insurance companies (not to say that it is not their decision to do so), are using the law to dump the poor Americans who [i]could[/i] afford tolerable health insurance.

    So, a law developed to more Americans on better health insurance is having the opposite effect: more Americans on no insurance. I don't see how you can try to spin that.

  16. Hank

    I am genuinely bewildered who these people are, who make enough money that they aren't eligible for the new subsidies, but still are compensated poorly enough by employers that their insurance is getting axed.

    If you're state government isn't retarded, you are eligible for medicaid making up to 138% of the poverty level, which is $27,000, which for 2000 hours worked is $13.50 an hour.

    If you're above the medicaid limit, you still are eligible for tax credits up to income 400% of the poverty level ($78,000), to create a cap on the maximum % of your income you have to pay.

    You can figure out exact requirements with this tool from Kaiser: but I tried a family of 4 making 40000 a year, with one parent a smoker. Your premium is $8290 a year, but after tax credits your net premium is $1965. That's like $150 a month.

    Also, this is the Silver plan. You can opt for the Bronze plan, which is more basic, and pay $546 for the year, but has much higher out-of-pocket costs.

    It's true there was deception about people having to change plans. But saying people will be losing insurance is bunk.

  17. Ricardo Bortolon

    Unfortunately, lots of state governments ARE "retarded": half the states aren't moving forward with the Medicaid expansion and the average income limit cut-off for (full?) benefits in those states is 49% of the poverty level. For a family of 4.

    Regardless, at $33,000 (140% of the estimated 2014 poverty level) you're paying $1125. I know housing and food are cheaper in the US but even using the US's own calculation for average spent on food, housing, and childcare they're assuming that if you're at the poverty level, only 2/15th is left for everything else (car/gas/transit, clothing, toiletries, etc).

  18. Jake_Ackers

    Hence "average". Try living in NJ or NYC or parts of CA. It's expense. When people say "average" they forget there are half of people above that "average."

  19. Jake_Ackers

    Okay first here is the problem. It's a tax credit. The way it works if you get the money back at the end of the year. Good luck coughing up over $8000 until then. Moreover there still are other taxes on top of that $40,000 like the payroll tax. Ideally a family could get coverage if they manage their finances well. But this is America, not even DC can do that right.

  20. Bill Stephens

    Perhaps my state government (GOP governor and both houses GOP-controlled) is retarded here in PA. I was ineligible for Medicaid when I was out of work because I made too much money ($250/week, or $13,000/year).

    I was out of work for 20 months, and still can't afford insurance even though I am now a part-time employee of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Part-time workers get charged $120 every two weeks for an HMO while full-timers get it for free. Part-timers get charged $140 biweekly for a PPO plan while full-timers get it for $29 biweekly.

    This isn't some work program – I got a job with a major state agency through a 97% test score on a civil service test. I'm trying to get full-time (I'm sitting on a 96% test score for that position), but have not been selected for one of those positions.

  21. Jake_Ackers

    I honestly hope you get the job. Although the problem with your situation is an example of gov't not an example of Republicans. Politicians promise all these things then look for quick ways to cut cost when they see the budget doesn't work.

  22. Jake_Ackers

    It's truth, Koro. Most people just can't afford it. Just because its subsidized doesn't make it cheap enough. Plus many Americans are unemployed. There are more people going to use gov't insurance than are going to sign up for paid ones. Not to mention the subsidizing cost.

  23. Psudo

    Wow. No harping on Bush and WMDs in the comments yet?

    Oh, wait. I just jinxed it.

  24. Matthew Naylor

    This is, of course, absurd. When your insurance company makes changes to your insurance, it's not the same insurance. If people had a static plan that was grandfathered in, they would no doubt be able to keep their insurance. However, as they keep getting a slightly different insurance policy rather frequently, they are going to be subject to some (very sensible) regulations about base coverage that are part of the ACA. That decision is not one made by the administration – it's one made by the insurance companies.

    At worst, Obama made a statement that was true but easily misinterpreted – indeed, it seems almost designed to be misinterpreted. Indeed, in contrast to the bewildering, complex and seemingly unnecessary web of lies that has been spun north of the border, this is nothing.

  25. Jake_Ackers

    Actually no. The insurance companies have to follow the outlined plans by the administration. And not all plans can be grandfathered in. And plus if you have to have a plan that is grandfathered in rather than taking a new one, then clearly Obamacare is not worth it for that person.

  26. Matthew Naylor

    Leaving your maceration of English grammar aside, who cares? Most examples of plans that people wanted to keep that they are now being forced out of are demonstrably worse than the new coverage they'll be 'forced' to take under Obamacare. I don't think catering to neophobic, tribalistic, radical Republicans is an effective way to run a health care system, and I thusly categorically reject your claim that Obamacare is 'clearly' worse at anything. The ACA will provide better health coverage and lower health care costs, and that's better for everyone.

  27. PTBO

    Single Payer Health Care would solve this problem

  28. Jake_Ackers

    And create many more. Europe doesn't have a pan universal healthcare system (as in a continent wide one) for good reason. It's all done by the individuals countries akin to each American state. Try to get the Irish and Sweds to agree on abortion. Good luck.

  29. Lien

    …what about larger countries like Russia and India? They both guarantee universal healthcare for their citizens despite the population numbers and size.

    And what the heck does the european union got to with anything? Heck, abortion is both legal in Ireland and sweden. The only exception is that ireland can only allow abortion on doctors order, by physical reason or "mental" reason (I.e non-consensual). In either case, they are both covered by the state when approved thanks to the european union standards on healthcare. Did you even look it up before you made-up problems on the spot about my home country?

  30. Ron Tal

    It's a joke right?

    Go outside of the central cities and you will see swaths of people without adequate access to care.

  31. Jake_Ackers

    India is third world. Russia is half our population and declining. The USA is a first world nation and the third most populous country in the world. No other country comes close (in terms of being this large in population size, geographic size and first world). The health issues the US faces is different in terms of conditions and the amount. Saying you can't get healthcare to the icefields of Russia is an excuse there but say that to people in Alaska… well that won't fly. India is poor and like Ron Tal said, not everyone is actually covered.

    There is no way you would get all of Europe to agree on one pan-EU plan. It's unlikely you would get all of the US which is the size of a continent to agree to one plan. It's easier to do it on a state level.

    Abortion is actually illegal in Ireland unless it's for health reasons. It's not as easy to get one as in other EU countries. Five national referendums have been held on the topic in the last 30 years in Ireland. Needless to say not even in Ireland people have settled on the issue. Now try to force all of Europe to agree on it, unlikely
    Even if it was the way you said it. Do you realize that is still a major difference? Many EU countries cover "abortion on demand" or due to "negligence" aka didn't bother using pills or condoms. Do you think the Irish would agree to cover those kinds of abortions? That is a massively touchy subject that would seriously affect how funding it done.

    Now imagine covering healthcare for smokers? Or for people who obese through negligence. Now how would we even agree on what negligence is. It's impossible to get the country that size of the US or something the size of the EU to completely agree. Therefore leave it to the states or individual countries.

  32. Golgot

    Russia has actually stopped dropping in population, and there doesn't appear to be any other area in which the country is becoming worse off except maybe a smidge in namby-pamby human rights and not having the jackboots of authority stomping your face in for all eternity sorts of ways, so I'm not sure what you mean by declining.

  33. Bill Stephens

    Since this comic comes from Canada, how is your single-payer, universal health care insurance up there?

    I have friends in the Ottawa and Montreal suburbs (Canadian-born and raised – I know them through a car club and have actually met them in person several times). They say that they would move to the States in a heartbeat except for our backwards health system.

    I wish we actually had that here in the States, just like every other developed nation on earth. Only in America do we oppose it, instead, siding with the insanely-rich insurance companies that try to deny as many claims as possible.

  34. Ron Tal

    From my experience, living in Ontario until a year a go and now in California… I would take the care available in California any day.

  35. Jake_Ackers

    Gov't denies more claims than insurance companies. Plus most claims are denied because people don't even bother to read what they actually are covered for. If you pay the cheapest insurance and expect the best coverage, then good luck with that.

    I believe single-payer works in Canada. Because of Canadian demographics. I don't Canada should change. But I also doubt single-payer would work in the USA.

  36. Taylor

    There isn't a singular system, there are individual provincial ones, excepting aboriginal folks, who rely on a Federal program.

    From my personal experience, Nova Scotia is abysmal and Ontario tolerable.

  37. J.j. McCullough

    I honestly feel like the two systems aren't that different from the perspective of day-to-day life. All Canadians have basic health insurance, through the government. Upwards of 90% of Americans do, too, through their employers or the government.

    American health care isn't perfect and is often cruel and annoying thanks to the restrictions of private insurance companies. Canadian health care isn't perfect and is often cruel and annoying thanks to the restrictions of provincial government health plans, which are constantly cutting back coverage, raising monthly premiums, and expecting more and more Canadians to get "top off" private insurance plans to cover everything they don't.

    Canadians also have to deal with a lot of hospital accessibility and surgery waiting issues Americans generally don't. I once slashed my arm terribly in a broken window and had to go to three different emergency rooms before someone would see me. I once stepped on a big piece of glass (I am somewhat accident prone) and had to wait four hours before someone would see me. My father got extensive knee surgery recently but had the operation cancelled twice, entailing months of painful waiting. Those kinds of stories are common among Canadians, but I get the impression not so much in the states. But of course American health insurance has its own horror stories too. But if the goal is a perfect system that no one ever complains about, that's not Canada by a long shot.

  38. robota rozum

    As someone who spends a lot of time with numbers and figures, I am of course left wanting for a quantitative method of establishing "scandal" (in the absence of Kerry Washington).

    Eye of the beholder notwithstanding, I find it very very very hard to include "you may have to buy a different health insurance plan" with Watergate, the Teapot Dome, Vietnam, Andrew Johnson's entire Presidency. A cabinet Secretary once barricaded himself in his office as those his name were Enjolras after having been illegally fired once already. A President was impeached and found guilty by 65% (but not 67%) of Senators, and we're talking about practice? Sorry, had AI's retirement on the brain. …and we're talking about Obamacare?

    Criticize him on the merits. There is no need to include rhetoric or historical damnation by association. For one thing, no previous President was born in Kenya.

  39. Jake_Ackers

    JJ is arguing not the severity of the action but the meaning of the words. Doesn't matter how bad the act was, nor does it matter if the intent was to lie. But rather it surely made them all seem like liars. And in politics, perception is everything. At the very least it is lack of foresight.

  40. virgil

    To be fair, the association with Nixon seems to be the only comparison people are taking issue with, and, thanks to the pardon, we probably will never know exactly the level of Nixon's involvement. The Bush senior and Clinton comments seem to be close to on the mark.

    In some ways they are more than those however. The President was incorrect on a fundamental point of policy regarding his signature program. I've been making the comment to some friends that up until October 1st we were still living in the Bush presidency….that is that most of the news was focused on matters, like the war on terror and the recession, that began during Bush's presidency. In consequence, Obama was able to state plausibly that he was responding to inherited problems. Not anymore. Now the Obama presidency finally must be judged on the wisdom of the policies he instituted. Therefore the President has, as he realizes, greater scrutiny…but also greater opportunity to rise as a statesman should his policies prove successful. From this perspective, the website crash followed by the cancellation of some 2 million policies is not an inspiring start.

  41. Taylor

    Might have an imitator, JJ.

  42. Trenacker

    Your remarks suggest that you are angry with the White House over the Benghazi attacks primarily because "the buck stops there."

    While I can understand in principle the desire to hold the sitting administration (indeed, any administration) responsible for failures in oversight, it seems rather silly in practice. A bit like calling for the head of someone, anyone, because a public sacking still counts as "doing something" even though it isn't necessarily progress unless you can demonstrate extraordinary negligence or malice.

    In day-to-day terms, the security of American diplomats falls to the Department of State. How likely do you think it is that the White House receives a steady diet of reports regarding the disposition of our embassy and consular security (along with associated threat status)? How likely would it have been for Obama to receive such a report from his handlers? Blaming him for the ambassador's death without evidence of direct involvement is the equivalent of parents blaming school administrators when a child falls at recess.

    Whether or not there was a cover-up is a completely separate matter. The fact that the White House did not immediately dump the blame on a stingy Congress would not, if true, surprise me. That might have smacked of partisanship.

    On the broader issue of Obama, it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to identify as a Republican. The concept of "drowning government in the bathtub" is frankly disturbing. We are no longer a country of little hamlets, bound by near-ironclad obligations of family and faith. Perhaps we never were. The idea that technocrats are inherently unable to float good ideas is simply stupid, as is the banal worship of "private sector ingenuity." Private enterprise fails all the time. Corporate executives get axed for incompetence or policy failure as often as they succeed. Probably even more often, in fact.

    While Obama is a miserable politician who has never learned to adapt to a hostile legislature, that legislature has proven itself mostly craven. Thanks to our political primary process, we are increasingly subjected to the legislative agenda of a marked minority of hyper-active lunatics who have essentially engaged in a collective fantasy in which this nation's leader is so alien, so evil, that only they can stop him. It is a kind of sick masturbatory fantasy.

    We insist that our politicians tell us the truth, yet we create electoral mechanisms that reward them massively for literally disowning the tactic of compromise. The ability to choose our own facts, and keep our own digital company in the 21st century has nearly outrun the strength of an 18th century system based on dialogue and compromise. The system, I think, is still sound at its core; it just requires that we rethink how to avoid political capture. Sadly, the same people responsible for righting the ship are also determined to beach it.

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