Obama on Obamacare: Promise the impossible, confess impotence, point fingers, repeat

Promise the impossible, confess impotence, point fingers. Repeat.

I’ve been putting off unpacking President Obama’s answer on Obamacare at his press conference today, so packed full is it of straw men and misrepresentations and fantasy and smears and straight-up lies. But here we go. The Cliffs Notes are the sentence above, if you should prefer to refer to them.


The takeaway is that, despite there being literally no way to wring good news about Obamacare from any question to any poll with any demographic, the president has decided his continued confidence in the program, which reality proves to be increasingly misplaced every day, will save it. Every time he talks about Obamacare, he assures everyone they’ll like it because it’s going to work. But the reason people don’t like it is they’ve had three years to show people it’s working, and it has brought nearly nothing but headaches and apprehension to a majority of Americans while breaking every single major promise the president made. Americans were skeptical of the law from the beginning, throughout its passage, and it is experience not misinformation or lack of salesmanship that has made them more skeptical.

First, Obama addresses the unilateral delay of a major part of the bill— the employer mandate:

With respect to health care, I didn’t simply choose to delay this on my own. This was in consultation with businesses all across the country, many of whom are supportive of the Affordable Care Act, but — and who — many of whom, by the way, are already providing health insurance to their employees but were concerned about the operational details of changing their HR operations if they’ve got a lot of employees, which could be costly for them, and them suggesting that there may be easier ways to do this.

No one really cares whether he got permission from a bunch of CEOs to unconstitutionally change a major part of this law. But what do I know? I’m no constitutional law professor. If this isn’t a naked expression some of the highest-placed abuse of power in service of corporatism we’ve ever seen from an American president, I don’t know what it is.


So, if I understand this right, so long as any future president has the support of “businesses” and donors for suspending parts of ObamaCare, he has the constitutional power to do so.

I’ll take that precedent. Makes things easier than I thought they would be, actually.

I think if a Republican is elected in 2016, he just might have support in the business and corporate community for suspending all elements of ObamaCare.


Moving on, President Obama would totally have had Congress change the law in this major structural way he calls a “tweak” if that dastardly Congress would just cooperate:

Now what’s true, Ed, is that in a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the speaker and say, you know what? This is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law. It has to do with, for example, are we able to simplify the attestation of employers as to whether they’re already providing health insurance or not. It looks like there may be some better ways to do this. Let’s make a technical change of the law.

That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do, but we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to, quote- unquote, “Obamacare.”

July 17, 2013: Obama threatens to veto legislation delaying the employer mandate he’d already ordered

So, who exactly is intractable, here?

We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so. But this doesn’t go to the core of implementation.

Megan McArdle points us to the writings of prominent Obamacare supporter Ezra Klein in 2009 on whether the removing the employer mandate is some kind of tiny tweak to the law:

The importance of this set of numbers can be understood only in terms of the catastrophe that was the last set of numbers. On June 15, the Congressional Budget Office scored an incomplete version of this bill. The office estimated that it would cost $1 trillion over 10 years and cover 16 million people. It would’ve cost, in other words, 70 percent more and covered 20 percent fewer people. The big question, then, is what accounts for the change? And luckily, there’s a simple answer: the employer mandate.

The June 15th proposal didn’t include an employer mandate. And without one, the news was grim: Employers would drop coverage for 15 million employees and send them to the Health Insurance Exchange where they would need government subsidies to afford health insurance. That meant costs exploded and coverage contracted. Health reform looked like a bum deal.

But oh, what a difference a mandate makes


Back to the president:

Let me tell you what is the core of implementation that’s already taken place. As we speak, right now, for the 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they are benefiting from being able to keep their kid on their — on their plan if their kid is 26 or younger. That’s benefiting millions of young people around the country, which is why lack of insurance among young people has actually gone down. That’s in large part attributable to the steps that we’ve taken. You’ve got millions of people who’ve received rebates because part of the Affordable Care Act was to say that if an insurance company isn’t spending 80 percent of your premium on your health care, you get some money back. And lo and behold, people have been getting their money back. It means that folks who’ve been bumping up with lifetime limits on their insurance that leaves them vulnerable — that doesn’t exist. Seniors have been getting discounts on their prescription drugs. That’s happening right now. Free preventive care, mammograms, contraception — that’s happening right now.

Yes, the liberal war cry through the pains of implementation has always been to refer to the two or three things people do like in the bill and then brush their shoulders off triumphantly. Problem is, they didn’t pass two or three things people liked and that they could reasonably handle implementing. They passed a gargantuan, systemic change to 1/6 of the economy, waited three years to bother even beginning to implement most of it to protect Obama’s reelection, ran into a Charlie Foxtrot of a situation of their own making, and then decided to tell Americans how much they’re benefitting from this Charlie Foxtrot. I’m not sure telling people who, in huge numbers even in Obama constituencies, think this law is making them worse off that they’re just big dummies who can’t understand how great it is is a wise political strategy. The 85 percent of people he references do not feel like they’re benefitting, and many are petrified about the major promise this law broke— “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” The president saying “everything’s already great,” does not answer their very real concerns and doesn’t jibe with their experiences. The press will never nail him for being “out of touch” the way they would another politician whistling this loudly past the graveyard, but that’s what this is.


As for the rebates, AP has confirmed they’re not all they’re cracked up to be, often going to the companies paying for insurance for their employers, not directly to the insured.

By the way, the president pretty much cured a dude’s cancer:

I met a young man today on a bill signing I was doing with the student loan bill who came up to me and said, thank you — he was — he couldn’t have been more than 25, 26 years old — thank you; I have cancer; thanks to the Affordable Care Act, working with the California program, I was able to get health care, and I’m now in remission. And so right now people are already benefiting.

Now, to actual implementation:

Now, what happens on October 1st, in 53 days, is for the remaining 15 percent of the population that doesn’t have health insurance, they’re going to be able to go on a website or call up a call center and sign up for affordable, quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market.

The call centers he mentions are a symptom of Obamcare’s failures, not a benefit. Because “Travelocity for health care” can’t possibly be guaranteed exist in a working state by October 1 for many parts of the country, the federal government is supplementing with call centers to inform Americans about the law before and after the exchanges are slated to open. These call centers offer employment but not health care benefits, in some cases.

The 15 percent of the country he mentions without health insurance amounts to about 47 million people. The CBO predicts, over the next decade under Obamacare, the number of uninsured never falls below 30 million.

And, no, for many of the 15 million uninsured who might get new health insurance through this exchange, it will certainly not be cheaper than individual health care is now, because individual health care costs necessarily skyrocket under Obamacare for the young, healthy, uninsured to cut costs for the older and sicker. John McCormack rounds up just a few examples of the higher premiums trend:


But, as CNN reported this week, rates will be 35 percent higher in Florida and 41 percent higher in Ohio on average under Obamacare.

The president’s health care law is also projected to drive up health care costs for many people currently on employer-provided plans.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that insurance companies “have already warned small business customers that premiums could rise 20 percent or more in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act,” and some companies may respond by not paying for insurance coverage for their employees’ family members.

There is also serious concern, conceded by supporters of the law, about whether young, healthy people needed to prop up the system will actually get into the system. Economically, it makes far more sense for them to pay a relatively cheap mandate fine for not having insurance than to buy much more expensive insurance (even when accounting for subsidies) when they hardly ever get sick. And, when they do get sick, thanks to Obamacare, they can require any insurer to cover them because of the pre-existing conditions stipulation. Where is the incentive to sign up?

The president again:

And if, even with lower premiums, they still can’t afford it, we’re going to be able to provide them with a tax credit to help them buy it. And between October 1st, end of March, there will be an open enrollment period in which millions of Americans for the first time are going to be able to get affordable health care.

There will be no verification system for people’s income in claiming these subsidies. I suppose that’s an incentive for people to jump in to game the system, so he’s got that as a carrot.

And, for his finale, something that doesn’t even dignify a response:

Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail. Their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care; and presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan, seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs, I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance, people with pre-existing conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.

That’s hard to understand as a — an agenda that is going to strengthen our middle class. At least they used to say, well, we’re going to replace it with something better. There’s not even a pretense now that they’re going to replace it with something better.


Rep. Eric Cantor did offer this:

I understand the president is very mad about opposition to Obamacare and very contemptuous of its opponents. That doesn’t actually help fix the law that is his signature. When he engages in this ridiculous straw-man fight, he engages in exactly the kind of backward-looking pose of which he accuses Republicans. Mr. President, you’ve said it yourself. Obamacare is the law. You passed it without any bipartisan support. You passed it without winning the support of the country for it. You put off implementation to spare your hide in 2012, and are now watching a poorly constructed and planned monstrosity fail to meet any of the promises you made.

He promised the impossible. Now, he professes impotence. And, points fingers at anyone but himself and his signature legislation for glaringly obvious failures. He is doomed to repeat this line and we’re doomed to keep hearing it.

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