The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, aka Obamacare, turned six months old on September 23. Hardly anybody celebrated the occasion, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. Last spring President Obama promised Democrats that supporting the new entitlement would turn out to be a political winner. But, like a lot of Obama promises, this one’s turned out to be a bunch of baloney.
Obamacare is less popular than it was on the day it was born, and it wasn’t popular then, either. Practically the only Democrats who mention the law in campaign ads are those who brag about voting against it. Large numbers of Americans, including a majority of independents, would like to see the law repealed. No wonder the pro-repeal GOP maintains an edge in the congressional generic ballot. As much as the public continues to distrust Republicans, it understands that the first step in undoing this harmful law is giving John Boehner the speaker’s gavel.
The case against Obamacare is simple. The requirement to buy health insurance is constitutionally dubious. The law lards taxes, rules, and fees onto an already over-regulated health insurance market. Its accounting is filled with gimmicks and tricks and relies on rosy assumptions about how many people will sign up for the government-subsidized insurance “exchange.” Those subsidies may be much more expensive than anticipated, because companies probably will find it cheaper to pay a fine than pay for their employees’ health care.
Furthermore, since the fees for violating the individual mandate are also low, Obamacare may actually lead to an increase in the uninsured, as individuals wait until they are sick to buy a health plan. In the meantime, since the bill increases demand for insurance while constraining supply, premiums will rise. And when the government attempts to control the price of premiums (as with any other good), shortages will result.
Add it all up, and you have a law that will make health care more expensive and less satisfactory. It’s also a law that exposes a massive gulf between the American people and the Democrats who govern them. When Americans responded to Barack Obama’s call for change in 2008, they wanted a change from a lousy economy and two long and unpopular wars. Obama and his lieutenants wanted something else. They wanted a change from the last 30 years of American government. They wanted redistribution in the service of income equality.
As the president famously told Joe the Plumber, “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” It therefore never really mattered that most voters placed a much higher priority on jobs, the economy, and the deficit than health care. For Obama and his liberal base, a universal entitlement to health care was always the top priority. Obamacare, more than anything else, is the change they were waiting for—whether the rest of us like it or not.
In a way, the tenacity with which Obama clings to his health care overhaul is almost admirable. After all, he’s sacrificed a lot for his ideology. His job approval rating dove underwater in the summer of 2009, when Congress took up health care legislation in earnest, and it hasn’t yet come up for air. He forfeited his claims to populism when he signed Obamacare into law despite public opposition, the rise of the Tea Party, town hall protests, and the election of Scott Brown to the Senate.
Obama’s credibility was severely damaged as he toured the country and promised audiences that he could give millions of people health insurance, not change a thing for people who already have insurance and like it (i.e., most people), and cut the deficit at the same time. Just the other day in Iowa, during yet another tedious “backyard discussion,” Obama felt compelled to condescendingly remind a concerned voter that “there’s nothing in the bill that says you have to change the health insurance you’ve got right now.” Who’s he kidding? Voters understand that any piece of legislation has unintended consequences. And one consequence of Obamacare will be to force changes in people’s health insurance, even if they are happy with what they have now.
This is a president who loves teachable moments, and there’s no better one than Obamacare’s six month anniversary. Pay attention, class: The central piece of Barack Obama’s presidency is a law that was passed by a narrow partisan margin over a public outcry—a law that increases dependency on government and will do untold damage to American health care. Repeal of that law will presumably require a Republican president in addition to a Republican Congress, so the homework assignment for 2013 is tough but worthwhile. Repeat after us: Don’t let Obamacare reach its third birthday.