By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
While the media continue to spin the King v. Burwell case as an existential threat to President Obama’s signature health care legislation, we at Accuracy in Media continue to expose how flawed those supposed “reforms” have been. Yet the media blindly and obstinately defend Obamacare as an administration success. A recent Washington Post editorial even suggests that the Supreme Court, which heard arguments for this case on March 4, should avoid tearing “apart a law that has slowly but surely found its footing.”
The idea that Obamacare—a job-killing law that is unaffordable and unworkable, coupled with more than 20,000 pages of added regulations causing perverse effects on the marketplace—has “surely found its footing” is part of a false narrative created jointly by pro-administration advocates and a media willing to justify the burdensome restrictions this has placed on the American people.
Now, we are being actively sold another false bill of goods: that the dispute over subsidies, and whether state or federal exchanges should be used for subsidies, threatens the many Americans who signed up for coverage under Obamacare. “Don’t be bamboozled by talk of disaster,” writes Betsy McCaughey for the New York Post. “Senate Republican leaders indicated on Monday that they’ll be ready to provide financial assistance to ‘help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period.’”
Yet Slate’s Eric Posner writes that “If the plaintiffs win, then most low-income people will drop out of the market because they cannot afford insurance without the subsidies.” In addition, Posner continues, “Only the sickest people will stay in, which will cause insurance companies to raise prices for everyone, causing more people to drop out and potentially throwing the insurance market into a spiral of death.”
Also, the media keep repeating that these six words, “an exchange established by the state,” were somehow thrown into the bill by mistake, or that it really meant something else. Except, according to Michael Carvin, attorney for the plaintiffs, the health care law contains “words limiting subsidies to ‘an exchange established by the state’ … 11 times,” reports NPR.
On March 4 Paul Kane devoted an entire Washington Post article to the idea that “Congress can sometimes be sloppy.” “If that’s the case, how did Congress end up writing such an ambiguous provision?” he asks. “And why hasn’t anyone on Capitol Hill fixed it?”
While D.C. politics are currently too fractious to fix this patently flawed law, “Losing in court will force the president to finally negotiate changes to his expensive, unworkable health law,” argues McCaughey. If the plaintiffs succeed, “Suddenly, the politically impossible—compromise on ObamaCare—will become politically inevitable.”
In fact, the law has already been altered on numerous occasions. While the standard line has been that the Republicans in the House have tried to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times, it has actually been altered at least 47 times, according to The Galen Institute. Of those, at least 28 were changes “that President Obama has made unilaterally, 17 that Congress has passed and the president has signed, and 2 by the Supreme Court.”
Currently, the Health and Human Services Secretary has signaled that the administration “does not have a backup plan to help those who could lose their insurance,” according to US News and World Report.
On Wednesday, the same day King v. Burwell was being argued at the Supreme Court, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell introduced the subject, saying, “At issue is whether states that rely on the federal health care exchange can provide subsidies to make it more affordable. If the court rules against the White House, eight million people could lose their coverage and premiums for millions more would skyrocket, making the plan basically unsustainable.”
Mitchell’s “facts” are highly dubious. Eight million people could lose their coverage? This appears to be based on a RAND study which estimates, “that 8 million people would become uninsured, and many others would see their health premiums spike,” according to US News and World Report.
The administration claims that 11.4 million people are signed up for private health care under Obamacare, which they claim proves that Obamacare is “working,” and a success.
But Avik Roy, who has been writing about this for Forbes, pointed out that “once you unravel the spin, what the latest numbers show is that the pace of enrollment in Obamacare’s exchanges has slowed down by more than half. If previous trends hold, Obamacare exchanges have enrolled roughly 5 million previously uninsured individuals: a far cry from 11.4 million.”
And what about the 40 million uninsured we were told about during the dishonest selling of Obamacare? This month marks five years since the so-called Affordable Care Act became law.
While pundits argue over the success of Obamacare, and whether those six words—“an exchange established by the state”—were a mistake, or should be disregarded because they supposedly contradict the overall intent of the law, the decision should come down to this: It’s not just the plain-language meaning of the law, which is very clear. The law wouldn’t have passed without including that language. It was not a mistake, or a drafting error. Then-Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska called it a “deal breaker,” according to Politico in 2010, two months before it became law.
In other words, without that incentive for the states to set up exchanges, he wouldn’t vote for it. The evidence is clear, as laid out in this American Spectator article, no longer available on their website.
And don’t forget Jonathan Gruber. He was one of the architects of Obamacare, and a close adviser to President Obama. He received millions of taxpayer dollars, from various states and the federal government. Gruber is the person who said that passing Obamacare depended “on the stupidity of the American voter,” and that it was “written in a tortured way” in order to deceive the voters about all the taxes they would have to pay. Regarding the subsidies being paid only to state exchanges, Gruber said that was “to squeeze the states to do it [to set up exchanges].”
One must ask also whether a family of four earning more than $90,000 per year should actually be subsidized by the government, or whether this is just a hook to get more and more people receiving government aid, and tie them to the political party most generously doling out these “discounts.” In this case, that would be the Democratic Party.
Mortimer Zuckerman, writing for The Wall Street Journal has also connected employers’ preference for part-time over full-time employees to the perverse effects of this law.
Betsy McCaughey is one of the few members of the media focusing on the positive outcomes that could result from plaintiffs winning this case—instead of claiming that disaster will strike. She argues these include benefits such as “relief for about 250,000 businesses” and “a system that lets people buy the health plans they want and work the hours they want.”
These potential benefits can only be understood in the light of the actual provisions of the law. If states agreed to establish exchanges, receiving in exchange subsidies for those signing up, “with the subsidies come something very important: the taxes and the penalties under the employer mandate penalty. So when 37 states decided not to set up exchanges, the administration tried to fix it with a rule, through the IRS, that subsidies would be issued in all 50 states, plus the employer mandate penalty,” asserted Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General on Fox’s On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. He is one of the attorneys general fighting to limit the damage from Obamacare.
Many pundits read into Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s remarks during oral arguments that a ruling against the White House position would result in states being effectively coerced into setting up exchanges, invoking a federalism argument. This was a hopeful sign to those wanting to see Obamacare survive. But Attorney General Pruitt pointed out in a Wall Street Journal column that states “are not children who must be protected by the federal government from making choices.” He said that when Oklahoma chose not to set up a state exchange, the state “knew the consequences of its decision but was not coerced into cooperating with implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” and still wouldn’t be.
Obamacare, except in a very few cases, has been an unmitigated disaster—no matter how Obama, the Democrats and the media try to sell it otherwise.