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(Almost) Everyone Loses

Of course the uninsured hate ObamaCare too.

By

JAMES TARANTO
December 17, 2013
(Note: We’re off on vacation, returning Jan. 3.)

Reason’s Peter Suderman takes note of a poll result that surprises him:

Obamacare has lost the uninsured.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week asked uninsured individuals whether or not they thought the law was a good idea. Just 24 percent said they thought it was. In contrast, half the uninsured polled said they thought it was a bad idea. As the Journal points out, that represents an 11 point drop in support for the law amongst the uninsured since September. The same poll also finds that 56 percent of the uninsured believe the law will have a negative effect on the U.S. health care system.

Let that sink in: What that means is that regardless of how bad the old system–the system that for whatever reason left them uninsured–was, a majority of people without health coverage now think that Obamacare makes it worse.

If Suderman’s surprise is sincere, he must have taken a sip of the ObamaCare Kool-Aid. Implicit in his reasoning is a huge unwarranted assumption–to wit, that people without health insurance desire to have it.

Getty Images

Some no doubt do, and lacked insurance because a pre-existing condition made them uninsurable in the pre-ObamaCare regime. But some lack insurance because they don’t want it, don’t feel they need it, are completely indifferent, or think it costs too much. What does ObamaCare do for them?

“To” them is more like it. It jacks up their premiums to pay for all the mandated coverages–especially if they’re young and healthy and thus least likely to think they need insurance to begin with. It then tells them that they must buy insurance, whether they want it or not. Imagine a law ordering everyone to buy a bicycle, or a periodic ration of meat. Even if the prices were deeply discounted, it would still be an unmitigated burden on noncyclists or vegetarians.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Congress exceeded its authority by “mandating” the purchase of health insurance, but it saved the law by construing the mandate as a tax on being uninsured. Being surprised that the uninsured would object to such a tax is like being surprised that yacht owners would object to George H.W. Bush’s luxury tax on yachts.

In short, what ObamaCare means to the uninsured who were not uninsurable is higher prices for a product they already were disinclined to buy, along with a punitive tax on not buying it. That seems more like a mugging than a benefit.

How many of the uninsured lack insurance because of pre-existing conditions? It’s hard to know, but it would appear the proportion is not high. A September Kaiser Family Foundation study reported that “the high cost of insurance is the main reason why people go without coverage.” It includes a pie chart with the following breakdown of reasons for lacking insurance: Insurance not affordable, 31.6%; lost job, 29.4%; other, 17.4%; no offer, 11.2%; aged out/left school, 8.8%; no need, 1.5%.

Arguably the problem of the uninsurable was a market failure that justified government intervention of some sort. If ObamaCare’s architects had approached the matter intelligently, they would have conducted research to identify the extent of that precise problem and carefully targeted their response. Government is quite capable of implementing even modest programs disastrously, but the hubris of demanding “comprehensive reform” gave us a law that had to be marketed via massive consumer fraud, and that harms almost everyone it affects.

If You Like Your News, You Can Keep Your News 
Here’s a fun story. It seems that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services are “concerned that senior leaders, including Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, ‘can be left ignorant and unaware’ of what Congress and the public are saying about them and their policies,” the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reports. Although HHS has “a large communications shop,” it is unable to do its job:

The reason, according to HHS, is that there is too much media to monitor and the department’s public affairs office is having trouble meeting deadlines and producing readable summaries. What’s more, like with the website issues plaguing Obamacare, the internal staff has had difficulty getting their news summaries to work on mobile devices.

“While the secretary, the agency heads, and senior leaders across the department are critical customers, it is important to the department in general that staff at all levels in all agencies be aware of how the department and its agencies are being cast in the public eye. All HHS staff essentially are ‘ambassadors to the public on the department’s behalf,” said a department notice.

“Without this knowledge, HHS leaders can be left ignorant and unaware of what the public, Congress and stakeholders may be saying and reacting to, thus leaving HHS officials less than fully informed in their decision making processes,” added the department.

So guess what they’re doing? That’s right, they’re “collecting the names of private companies that can produce a customized daily digest of news better and more complete than the one HHS aides currently compile.” Got a PR firm? If so, here’s news you can use: “Interested small businesses have until Dec. 23 to tell HHS if they can handle the job.”

So the agency that presumes to control your medical care isn’t even competent enough to read the newspapers and summarize their content–and they’re turning to the private sector for help. Oh well, it could be worse. With this crowd, it’s a wonder they’re not calling on Congress to enact “comprehensive media reform.”

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