Obama: Health insurance isn't expensive - just cancel cable and phones; Update: White House responds

This is a few days old, but it’s amusing nonetheless. Barack Obama appeared in a town hall for Spanish-language media on March 6th to discuss ObamaCare and promote enrollments, and got challenged by a viewer on the economics of it for low-income Americans who are now forced to buy comprehensive health insurance. On a $36,000 annual income, the requirement to buy the broad policy rather than something a little more economical — say, hospitalization coverage combined with an HSA, a strategy which is now all but illegal — makes it impossible to comply. Pshaw, Obama replied. Why, all those low-income folks need to do is stop spending money on luxuries like cable television and cell phones!

No, really:

The President responded that “if you looked at their cable bill, their telephone, their cell phone bill… it may turn out that, it’s just they haven’t prioritized health care.” He added that if a family member gets sick, the father “will wish he had paid that $300 a month.”

The Libre Initiative points out that premiums have skyrocketed, thanks to the forced changes in ObamaCare, along with the mandate for comprehensive coverage:

According to the National Center for Public Policy Research, the health care law is reducing choice and increasing premiums for millions of Americans. Ehealthinsurance reports that consumers are paying an average of 39% more than they did before the law was implemented. The high cost of policies is contributing to the continued weak enrollment numbers under the law, which are now showing signs of decreasing with less than 3 weeks left to enroll. When he sought the Presidency, Mr. Obama said his plan would deliver affordable care that people would be “desperate” to purchase.

Daniel Garza, Executive Director of The LIBRE Initiative released the following statement:

“If the President actually believes that a family earning less than $40,000 per year can afford nearly $4,000 in health insurance premiums, then he truly does not understand middle-income families. Americans do not need the President to tell them how to budget their households. People are already cutting back on things like cable television and cell phones, just to compensate for an awful economy.This President promised he would deliver on affordable health care. Instead, premiums are up, out-of-pocket expenses are up, and overall cost of living is up. The President simply doesn’t get it. And his condescending attitude adds insult to injury.”

Let’s take a look at that $300 a month, too. Assuming that we’re talking about a family of four, that would force the family to spend $3,600 a year. While that might be money well spent in the case of catastrophe, it’s a bad investment on several levels otherwise. If both kids break a bone, it might run them $500 each to get treated, or perhaps even a thousand each if they go to an emergency room. If they get the flu, perhaps another $200 each for a doctor visit. Throw in wellness checks for everyone at $250 each, and we’re talking about $3400 in medical care, $200 less than their premiums.

But wait! In most plans of that cost, the family will have to spend thousands of dollars in deductibles first for everything but the wellness checks — so the only benefit will be covering the $1000 those cost. In this example, the family that normally would have spent $3400 out of pocket in that year will now spend $5,800.

That’s why families such as the caller’s used HSAs to spend pre-tax money on routine care and smaller emergencies, and chose so-called catastrophic insurance to deal with serious issues requiring hospitalizations. They could do that and still afford to have a phone and cable TV, at least until Barack Obama assumed he could prioritize their budgets better than they could.

Update: Jesse Lee at the White House responds:

It’s difficult to read with the red background, but Obama discusses other options for lower-income families in this part of the Q&A. He also attacks the states that refused to go along with Medicaid expansion, although at $36K a year that’s probably a non-sequitur. This still doesn’t really address Obama’s own suggestion that $300 a month is a reasonable cost for comprehensive family insurance, nor does it negate his implication that families could choose to live without cable and phone service instead. That may well be a fair argument on basic economics, but it’s a far, far cry from the argument offered over the past five years of affordability in ObamaCare. For many uninsured, they had that option in 2009, too.

Also, for the record, I didn’t notice a “mysterious[]” cut in the middle when I posted this, but I’ll watch more carefully for that in the future.

Update: The Federalist looked at the whole response, including what the White House sent me, and scoffed even more:

“Is the Affordable Care Act really affordable?” the moderator then asked Obama. Obama couldn’t settle on a single answer to the question, so he instead suggested that the man should just sign up for Medicaid, blamed Texas for affordable insurance not being available, and concluded by saying the man should cancel his telephone service if he can’t afford to pay for any of Obamacare’s health insurance options. …

That’s right: it’s not Obamacare’s fault that insurance is now unaffordable. It’s Texas’ fault for not expanding Medicaid. If you like your health plan, you can…just go sign up for Medicaid. Or cancel your phone service. Whatever.