Obamacare News

January 29, 2015

Rich! Just really rich! That’s my reaction to House GOP Demands To Know What Obama Will Do If SCOTUS Guts Obamacare, posted at TalkingPointsMemo on January 28 and written by Sahil Kapur.

The issue is King v. Burwell, No. 14-114, the Supreme Court case to be argued on March 4. The plaintiffs claim subsidies cannot be provided to insureds in states without their own exchanges. Most of these states—which rely on the federal exchange—are red states, controlled by Republican governors and legislatures. (For more on the issues, read King v. Burwell: The Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court Meet Again from MRW, posted in November 2014.)

Mr. Kapur focuses on a January 28 letter from five House Republicans. “Demand” unfairly describes the very civil letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. The letter asks how the administration plans to deal with the loss of subsidies if the plaintiffs prevail. And, in the abstract, the questions are fair and sent in furtherance of the oversight role Congress should play.

Alas, we don’t live in the abstract. In the real world the letter writers want President Obama’s people to let Congress know how they will deal with a huge problem—if the plaintiffs prevail—which: (1) was caused by a minor drafting error; (2) can be fixed with ease by Congress, if it wants to; and (3) only matters because Republicans have made it an issue so they can score political points.

I think this will be yet another tempest in a teapot, for the reasons I offered back in November. That aside, supporting a challenge to a law, and demanding to know how your opponent will solve the problem your position creates, shows clearly that at least one-half of one branch of our government is not yet ready for prime time.

Want more confirmation about “not yet ready for prime time?” Here’s Mr. Kapur, again, with Republicans Are At A Loss On What to Do If SCOTUS Nixes Obamacare Subsidies from January 29. The piece quotes more than dozen Republican elected officials, staffers, and “think tank-ers,” with none of them describing a viable substitute for the current law. (Not a single mention of “Fix. The. Error.”) By the way, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, 1773 days ago. Countless repeal votes and lawsuits later, there’s no “there” there when it comes to an alternative.

In other Obamacare news, in the past several days I have had interesting conversations with a few people about healthcare issues. Several non-business owners told me with a high degree of confidence that employers are not hiring because of Obamacare. “Authority for this claim,” I asked one of them. “Everybody knows,” was the response.

As it happens I also talked with an employee at a business I patronize. She told me her boss had laid people off because of the Obamacare employer mandate. Digging deeper, I learned about automation at a plant, which eliminated a couple of dozen jobs (and, presumably, will increase company profits).

All laws and rules impose burdens. They just do! And we deal with them, all of the time. As it happens laws and rules are near and dear to me, for they have kept my family well-fed, sheltered and clothed, but those same rules and laws provide a platform for people, and not just attorneys, to be successful. (Try making money in a country—take Haiti, for example—which has no property ownership structure.)

Given the existence of laws and rules and the fact that without them, making money is nigh on impossible, I don’t understand the fretting over Obamacare. Most employers have been providing insurance for a long time. Getting and keeping good employees depends on health insurance in many cases. So, from my vantage point, at least, the level of upset makes little sense.

In a perfect world employer-based health insurance never existed, for it’s not a sensible way to insure people. Adam Davidson for NPR’s Planet Money, with Accidents of History Created U.S. Health System from 2009, provides the historical explanations, and it is wage and price controls during World War II which account for our employer-based system.

I’m sure all of this will get sorted out over time. In the meantime, though, there’s an awful lot of wasted energy. Give the law a chance, or come up with something better, or be quiet. Please.

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