By now it's an understatement to say—as Senate Democrats said to President Obama yesterday—that Democrats face a national "crisis of confidence" in the Affordable Care Act. And their confidence likely wasn't buttressed by the closing weeks of the Virginia gubernatorial campaign, in which the botched Obamacare rollout whittled Democrat Terry McAuliffe's once-substantial lead down to a surprisingly close margin.
Simply put, "if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period," is fast becoming President Obama's own "read my lips: no new taxes" moment.
Democratic senators Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin have won headlines with their legislative proposal to "keep" the Affordable Care Act's "promise": "When we passed the Affordable Care Act, we did so with the intention that if you liked your health plan, you could keep it," Landrieu said. "A promise was made and this legislation will ensure that this promise is kept."
The text of the bill (S. 1642) is not yet available, but Sen. Landrieu explained on the Senate floor that her bill would require insurance companies to "continue to offer grandfather plans that were in effect prior to a certain date." To be blunt, this statement only highlights how Democrats are fundamentally missing the point.
First, the Democrats return to their basic instinct: when in doubt, impose a new mandate. Landrieu and Manchin are not merely correcting Obamacare's termination of old insurance plans. They go much further, by including a "directive" to require insurance companies to continue to offer old coverage. Had they merely wanted to correct Obamacare's problem, they could have simply joined Sen. Ron Johnson's bill, which does precisely that.
Second, and more importantly, Landrieu and other Democrats ignore the basic contradiction in their thinking. On the one hand, they promise that "if you like your plan, you can keep it." But on the other hand, they categorically disregard all Americans—especially the young and healthy—who liked their old plan to bear the cost of health care out of their own pockets, rather than through insurance that they concluded was unnecessary.
There is no meaningful difference between these two groups of Americans: namely, Americans who concluded that the best insurance plan for them was their old plan that does not pass muster with Obamacare's requirements; and those who find that the best insurance plan for them was no plan at all. Both groups weighed the costs and benefits of various insurance plans, and chose the one that best suited them. (And, as the Wall Street Journal reports, many young people continue to make one such choice—the no-insurance choice—much to the Obama administration's chagrin.)
So if Landrieu and Manchin continue to hold themselves out as defenders of consumer choice, they owe everyone—especially young Americans—an explanation: why do the senators trust Americans who believe that the best insurance is cheap insurance, yet continue to ignore those who find that the best insurance is no insurance at all? Those Americans liked their insurance plan—why can't they keep it, too?