Harkin: Yeah, ObamaCare was a mistake

Chuck Schumer isn’t the only Democrat suffering from buyer’s remorse from March 2010. Outgoing progressive Senator Tom Harkin, whose seat will be filled by conservative Joni Ernst in large part because of voter unhappiness with ObamaCare, told The Hill that the Affordable Care Act was a huge mistake — but not quite for the same reasons Schumer believes. While Schumer belatedly lamented the lost opportunity to boost the middle class rather than climb on the Democratic hobby horse of health-insurance overhauls, Harkin regrets not doing more to demolish the health-insurance industry:


He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress.

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.

“What we did is we muddle through and we got a system that is complex, convoluted, needs probably some corrections and still rewards the insurance companies extensively,” he added. …

Harkin says in retrospect the Democratic-controlled Senate and House should have enacted a single-payer healthcare system or a public option to give the uninsured access to government-run health plans that compete with private insurance companies.

“We had the votes in ’09. We had a huge majority in the House, we had 60 votes in the Senate,” he said.

He believes Congress should have enacted “single-payer right from the get go or at least put a public option would have simplified a lot.”

Well, that’s certainly one point of view. Perhaps Harkin really believes that the backlash against ObamaCare comes from a general sense that government should control even more of the health choices of Americans than it arrogated in the unpopular bill. And while a single-payer system might not have required the same kind of web portal HHS couldn’t get right with $400 million and a three year head start, the incompetence demonstrated over the past year-plus would still be afflicting Americans in even greater ways if the agency had to take over all those moving parts, rather than just the enrollment piece.


Harkin’s right that the ACA is tremendously complicated, but that’s because it tries to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to a massive industry that has to tend to very unique personal circumstances. That’s not an argument for government to take over the rest of the industry; it’s an argument that government shouldn’t have taken over any of it, even apart from the obvious lessons of HHS incompetence in what they did get to control.

And the complications continue, mainly because the bill’s backers — Harkin included — dealt with the complexity by punting Congressional authority to unaccountable agencies and the executive branch. That pusillanimous route was necessitated by the fact that Democrats in Congress didn’t have any idea what they were doing when they unilaterally restructured risk-pool management in health care, Harkin again included. Thanks to that dodging of responsibility, we get regulatory dumps like this on Fridays and before holidays:

In any case, last week’s changes, like the president’s previous fixes, create new losers as well as winners — the sort of tradeoffs that legislators are supposed to weigh in our system of government. The basics:

  •  Obama will require large employers to provide more coverage than the Affordable Care Act specifies. The move disqualifies plans now offered by 1,600 employers to 3 million workers, according to Kaiser Health News. Those employers will have to find a way to cover the higher costs — and some will surely do so by stopping coverage for spouses or part-time workers.
  •  The new rules suddenly treat state high-risk pools as adequate coverage under the Affordable Care Act — a 180 from what the law actually says.
    When the ACA became law, these plans for people with chronic illnesses were offered in 35 states. Winners will be those who live in the 10 states that haven’t yet phased out their high-risk plans. Losers: the many thousands in 25 states that already gave up their plans to comply with the ACA’s mandates.
  •  The rules tell insurers to give new enrollees a 30-day grace period during which they can continue to use doctors not in their plan’s network. Winners: People who need time to switch to in-network doctors. Losers: Taxpayers — who’ll be obliged to bail out the insurers clobbered with the extra cost.
  •  Speaking of bailouts, Sec. 1342 of the law promises taxpayer-funded bailouts to insurers who lose money selling plans on ObamaCare exchanges. But the bailouts can’t happen unless Congress appropriates the money, something the GOP-controlled Congress won’t want to do. Yet the new Federal Register notices explicitly double down on the administration’s pledge to make insurers whole if losses are bigger than expected.

By repeatedly contradicting the letter of the Affordable Care Act, these new rules add to a pattern of lawlessness in implementing the health law — even as the administration’s boldest misreading of the law is before the Supreme Court.


So another 3 million people get to have first-hand experience with the 2013 Lie of the Year, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” I wonder how many promises the government would keep if it had full control of the health care system, as Harkin now says they should have granted in 2010?

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Jazz Shaw 8:30 AM | February 25, 2024