Monday, November 04, 2013

Obamacare's Authoritarian Problem

You can't keep your insurance if you like it under Obamacare, because you're too ignorant to understand what's good for you.

That's the argument we've been hearing from a lot of folks on the left -- an argument that pivots from "common good" to soft authoritarianism. President Barack Obama is all in, as well, claiming that he was merely guilty of forcing Americans to pick a "Ferrari" health care plan over a "Ford" one. (Is it really "picking" if you're forced?)

This is necessary because health care is not a product as a toaster is a product. (It took me only a few seconds online to find 613 different types of toasters, ranging in price from more than $300 to $15. They weren't subsidized, and I even could carry them across state lines. If health care were like toasters, we'd all be in great shape.) And as they do with anything that features negative externalities, technocrats will tinker, nudge and, inevitably, push.

"America doesn't have a free-market health care system and hasn't for decades," Business Insider's Josh Barro wrote in a piece titled "If You Like Your Health Plan, You Probably Shouldn't Be Able To Keep It." "With taxpayer subsidies so embedded in everybody's plan purchasing decisions, taxpayers have a legitimate interest in ensuring that health plans serve the public interest, not just private interests."

"Legitimate" is a malleable adjective. Just think of all the other areas of American society that are subsidized by taxpayers. Agriculture, higher education, the auto industry, the banking industry, professional sports, marriage -- the possibilities are endless. Why is Washington allowing 20-year-old college students to work on business degrees when we need them to be engineers and factory workers? We subsidize, so why don't we decide? contributor Sally Kohn wrote a piece titled "A canceled health plan is a good thing." You're not getting what you want; you're getting what you need. Kohn -- unsheathing the "public good" justification that opponents of same-sex marriage regularly use -- failed to mention even once that the president explicitly assured Americans while campaigning for the Affordable Care Act that "if you like your plan, you can keep it." NBC News is reporting that the Obama administration knew that millions of Americans would probably lose their current health plans because of the implementation of the law, yet it went on lying.

It's almost as if some people believe lying is acceptable -- even preferable -- if the political outcomes are morally pleasing to them. Many Obamacare supporters, in fact, are beginning to sound as if they couldn't care less about process, the law, order, competence or anything that undermines the goal of putting your health care choices into more capable hands.

But even the more specific arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.

Admittedly, many people do stupid things that aren't good for them. And though I may not know exactly what I need, I probably know as much about what I need as Kohn or Obama -- or even the 51.1 percent of the electorate that voted for the president. The reason Kohn and many of the others believe that Americans should be thankful for a paternalistic administration that en masse pushed us into (supposedly) top-shelf plans is that they don't believe in markets or they don't understand how they work -- and in some cases, it's both.

Let me put it this way: There's this Chinese restaurant near my house. It's not the cleanest place, granted. And the folks who "work" there are, it seems, completely uninterested in my dining experience. The food is priced accordingly. But I love the dumplings. It's really all that matters to me. There's another Chinese place nearby. This one is newer. It has a friendly and attractive staff. It offers me clean silverware, and I walk on expensive contemporary tiles. All that classy stuff is nice, and it's also embedded into the price of my dumplings -- which are no better. I don't want to pay for the tiles. I just want the dumplings.

In health care and other things, we often pick plans that offer us something we value above other things. Americans don't need all their plans to look the same. Maybe some of them like the customer service; maybe some like the stability of staying with one company for many years. This is why having 600 toasters in an open market is preferable to having a handful of choices in a fabricated "market" exchange -- and why choice is better for us than coercion.



Islamists salivate over Bill de Blasio, New York's mayor-in-waiting

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's successor will bring change to New York City, and some of it is likely to warm an Islamist's heart. Consider the NYPD's post-9/11 intelligence-gathering operations inside the Muslim community. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended these counterterrorism tactics against years of criticism; long-shot Republican candidate Joe Lhota also supports them.

However, Democratic frontrunner Bill de Blasio has pledged to replace Kelly and clearly seeks to curb the NYPD, telling Muslims that "the efforts of surveillance have to be based on specifically specific information."

Recapping the Islamist terror plots thwarted by the NYPD, writer Daniel Greenfield explains that "the standard of 'specifically specific information' would have led to the deaths of countless New Yorkers." He adds: "They relied on informants drawing out potential terrorists, instead of waiting blindly for them to strike. If Bill de Blasio has his way, that will no longer be something that the NYPD will be able to do."

The sole silver lining is that any resulting tragedy will prompt the swift repudiation of such kinder, gentler counterterrorism — at least until forgetfulness triumphs once more.

Another probable change involves city schools. Both de Blasio and Lhota favor closing them on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, a move that Bloomberg opposes. One can reasonably argue that Muslim holidays should be treated no differently than Jewish holidays if the two populations are of comparable size. Yet there are drawbacks to altering the calendar. First, the mere prospect of adding Muslim holidays has already sparked a flood of requests that other groups be similarly recognized. Second, this concession will only embolden Islamists to demand more — and that is never a happy outcome.

Left: Conspiracy theorist Linda Sarsour spoke at the October 16 rally of Muslims for de Blasio. Right: CAIR's Zead Ramadan, who has characterized NYPD counterterrorism work as "f—ked up," also attended the event, a month after he was trounced in a City Council primary.

Voters reject CAIR candidate for New York City Council

One piece of positive news from Gotham: Zead Ramadan, a longtime senior official with the local branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), came up far short in his bid to represent Manhattan's District 7 on the New York City Council. Despite some significant endorsements, including one from former mayor David Dinkins, Ramadan garnered a paltry 657 votes, 3.6 percent of the 18,010 cast in that district's Democratic primary election.

A 2013 IW article outlines Ramadan's Islamist record. In addition to having served as board president of CAIR-New York, one of the notorious pressure group's more radical chapters, he has smeared the U.S. on Iranian state-controlled TV, refused to denounce the Hamas terrorist organization, and blasted NYPD counterterrorism activities. His defeat is a victory for New York.



Why Aren't People Grateful for the Better Health Plans (or Light Bulbs) Mandated by the Government?

Shane JansenShane JansenThe New York Times notices that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—under which, President Obama assured us, we could keep our health plans if we liked our health plans—has resulted in the cancellation of medical coverage for "hundreds of thousands of Americans in the individual insurance market." But the article treats this phenomenon mostly as a Republican talking point, as opposed to an actual problem. "Cancellation of Health Care Plans Replaces Website Problems as Prime Target," says the headline. "After focusing for weeks on the technical failures of President Obama's health insurance website," says the lead, "Republicans on Tuesday broadened their criticism of the health care law, pointing to Americans whose health plans have been terminated because they do not meet the law's new coverage requirements." The Republicans even have props:

    "Baffled consumers are producing real letters from insurance companies that directly contradict Mr. Obama’s oft-repeated reassurances that if people like the insurance they have, they will be able to keep it....

    The cancellation notices are proving to be a political gift to Republicans, who were increasingly concerned that their narrowly focused criticism of the problem-plagued could lead to a dead end, once the website's issues are addressed."

The Times does intimate that canceled health insurance is perceived as a problem by those who experience it but repeatedly suggests that it's not that big a deal. "The affected population, those who bought insurance on their own, is a small fraction of an insurance market dominated by employer-sponsored health plans," it says. (Won't the government's new minimum coverage requirements force changes in those plans too, and won't that result in higher costs for employees?) "Tens of millions of people are finding that their insurance is largely unchanged [except for the cost?] by the new health care law," a sidebar notes.

What about the others? "In many of those cases," the Times says, "the insured have been offered new plans, often with better coverage but also at higher prices." At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, likewise emphasized (as paraphrased by the Times) that "the new policies would provide more benefits and more consumer protections than many existing policies."

Tavenner seems to think that makes it OK to force people out of their old policies and into the new, government-approved ones. Yet people who buy coverage on the individual market already have weighed the tradeoffs and decided they do not want the benefits that the federal government insists they should have. Overriding those judgments is like demanding that car buyers looking for an economical subcompact buy a hybrid minivan instead. Sure, it costs more, but it's a better vehicle! Look at all that space for children! And if the buyer happened to be a bachelor, he would be in the same position as all the people compelled to buy "maternal coverage" or "substance abuse services" for which they have no use.

Even features that pretty much everyone would like if all other things were equal, such as low deductibles and generous prescription drug coverage, cost money. People who deliberately forgo them have decided they are not worth the price. By what right does the government tell them they are wrong?

The argument that the insurance mandated by Obamacare costs more, but it's worth it reminds me of the debate over the creeping federal ban on incandescent light bulbs. There, too, consumers had made a choice that politicians and bureaucrats did not like: They overwhelmingly preferred traditional bulbs, despite their inefficiency, because they were much cheaper than the alternatives. But consider the energy savings! "A household that upgrades 15 inefficient incandescent light bulbs," an Energy Department official enthused, "could save about $50 per year." Consumers unimpressed by that calculation were clearly too stupid to be making decisions for themselves, so they had to be forced into better (albeit more expensive) choices.



Next Week's New Yorker Cover Takes on Glitches

With Obama on a "brick" phone from about 20 years ago

Everyone is jumping on the ‘making fun of Obamacare’ bandwagon. Last weekend the cast of SNL made fun of rollout train wreck and now the New Yorker is joining that group. This coming week’s cover (as seen below) is a drawing of Sebelius crossing her fingers and President Obama on the telephone, huddled around a computer with a tech trying to make it work.

This is quite amusing because the tech guy is trying to use a floppy disc to make improvements on the website. As many people know, the use of floppy discs has basically become so outdated they are not in use anymore. Perhaps it is time to do more than hire outdated techs and just crossing your fingers to make things better.



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