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The Dangerous Game of Overhyping Obamacare's Failures


Sanity and balance are hard to come by in the Obamacare debate, but Megan McArdle has just delivered both in a recent post, “11 Pieces of Obamacare Conventional Wisdom That Shouldn’t Be So Conventional.”

McArdle is no fan of Obamacare—she’s outlined some of her problems with it here, and proposed an alternative here—so many of her eleven points take apart the claims made on behalf of the law. She notes, for example, that though ACOs are supposed to be the biggest cost-saving measure in Obamacare, they might eventually increase costs by encouraging hospital consolidation. But she also latches onto some of the assertions being made by opponents:

5. People can game the system by going without insurance and then buying it when they get sick. Republicans have been skating a thin line between prophesying this, and encouraging it. But they’re wrong. After March 2014, this is going to be a pretty dangerous game to play. You will only be able to enroll in an exchange policy during open enrollment at the beginning of each year. Now, this would actually work for a lot of conditions- — even necessary surgery can often wait nine months, and while I really wouldn’t recommend it, it probably wouldn’t actually kill you to wait six months to get into a diabetes treatment program. But if you get into a car accident in April, the next 10 months of expensive treatment will be on your dime.

Now, I’m not saying that this means everyone’s going to buy insurance. I don’t think we know that yet. But the Republicans arguing that people will cost us a bundle by only paying premiums after they get sick is just wrong.

McArdle’s piece is, among other things, a reminder to opponents of the law not to overplay their hand. It’s becoming increasingly clear that there are serious flaws with the law, but overstating the case against it is the mirror image of the mistake Obama made back in 2010, when he assured us that ACA would allow anyone who liked their current plant to keep it. The bigger a disaster people expect the law to be, the better the law will appear if it only turns out to be a middling failure.

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