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Did He or Didn't He?


The big questions in Affordable Care Act news this week are “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Did the administration know back in 2010 that millions of Americans would probably lose their pre-existing insurance as the ACA went into effect.

NBC kickstarted the debate with a story about ACA regulations from July 2010 that predicted that anywhere from 40 to 67 percent of Americans insured in the individual market would have plans that couldn’t be “grandfathered” in under the ACA. In other words, they would lose their insurance, and have to buy new, often more expensive plans.

The administration responded at first by vigorously denying the charge. But eventually even White House spokesman Jay Carney conceded yesterday that “substandard plans” will have to be phased out if they don’t meet ACA minimum requirements, so it’s unclear exactly what part of the NBC report the administration rejects. The facts here speak for themselves: the cancellation process is already ongoing for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and it will only speed up. In the worst case scenario, up to 80 percent of all Americans insured in the individual market could have their plans cancelled.

Perhaps the part of the report that the administration rejects is the idea that President Obama has known all along that the cancellations would be this widespread. That’s not a very attractive defense. If the President didn’t know that his NSA operatives were conducting surveillance of foreign leaders, or exactly how his bureaucrats were implementing his most important domestic achievement and highest priority, it would be interesting to know what else he was focused on instead.

But of course, the idea that the administration didn’t know this would happen is a laughable proposition: if you outlaw plans that don’t meet certain standards, all the plans beneath those standards will have to be eliminated. All along, in fact, left-of-center wonks have been praising the ACA for outlawing “bad” plans. Here’s Ezra Klein last April:

Obamacare will force insurers to upgrade their products to meet a minimum level of comprehensiveness, lay down some rules limiting price discrimination against the sick and the old and the female, and then help people pay for the final product. It’s a lot like what happens if you move to an employer that offers better health insurance and helps you pay for it.

This isn’t, by the way, some new insight, or argument. The Congressional Budget Office wrote about this effect during the Obamacare debate, and its study was widely reported.

Anyone who’s been involved in drafting or debating this legislation has known for a long time this was coming. Jay Carney put it this way: “What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there is going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage, minimum services every insurance provider has to provide.”

The only ones who have been caught off guard by this “revelation” are media outlets and supporters of the law that haven’t been paying close attention. Obama’s “if you like your plan, you can keep it” has always been something “between an oversimplification and a falsehood” (and, really, we can do away with the left-hand portion of that range of possibilities). The general public is at long last realizing that fact.

But does this debate matter? Why is it important what Obama knew and when? It matters, first, because it points to a deep disconnect between the technocratic governing class and the American people. Reassuring the public with something “between an oversimplification and a falsehood” while designing a system that would have such widespread and disruptive effects is typical behavior for those in the grips of the technocratic mindset. We need to recognize and remember this behavior in the future.

Second, this debate matters on its own merits. The reason why these plans are being eliminated is to impose new plans that force the young and healthy to subsidize benefits for the middle-aged and old. If you’re interested in creating a dynamic and growing economy, this is a step in the wrong direction. This kind of generational transfer imposes higher costs on the people that society relies on to innovate and take risks, smothering them in yet another wet blanket of bureaucratic risk aversion and pro-middle age policies.

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  • Reticulator

    If you like your plan (and if HHS likes the plan, too) you can keep it.

    Do you really expect the President of the United States to mention every last detail that has to be true before you could keep your plan? He’s a busy man, and has other important things to talk about.

    • M Snow


    • Pete

      “He’s (Obama) a busy man, and has other important things to talk about.”

      Like golf and his next vacation.

  • Kevin

    It is also important as a matter of trust between the government and the governed. When the governing class lies and misleads the voters it promotes a corrosive cynicism about the government.

    • Corlyss

      True for the last 50 years. Trust has declined markedly from the 60s to now. The demo trusting the government is somewhere in the 30s and probably represents all those minorities and single women who “can’t make it without government handouts.”

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    They had to lie about the plan, the leftist politicians wouldn’t have voted for it without the political cover from the President.

    • Corlyss

      Close, but it wasn’t the lefty pols they had to convince. Those guys were already on board with the Progs #1 wet dream.
      The people they had to convince were the voters who don’t know jack about public policy. It was the public that had to be anesthetized. The gob smacked voters who were intrigued by the first Black president enough to vote for Obama, despite the fact that he was the most left wing of Democrats, needed to be reassured that they hadn’t made a horrible mistake. To quote David Horowitz, “When you think you can end poverty, racism, and injustice, what lies will you NOT tell? Whom will you NOT kill?” Lying for Justice becomes not a necessary evil but an imperative good.

      If this hadn’t been such a monumental disaster for America on so many levels, I’d be saying the shocking truth and reality serves them right. I never believed the man from the moment he surfaced in 2004 as Jack Ryan’s challenger. Not once. Not ever. The nature and extent dirty tricks the Dems were prepared to pull would only have been deployed in the interests of putting forward a Trojan Horse in whom they had enormous faith that he would do for them what they could never have done otherwise.

  • lord acton

    In time, Obamacare will be seen as the Stalingrad of the welfare state. As medicare and social security were starting to crack under the inexorable reality of math, the leftists went all in with Obamacare to create a new entitlement. This defeat will lead to a total collapse of the blue model (Eastern Front). Truly, President Obama will be remembered for transforming the country.

  • Pete

    Only a fool will trust Washington.

  • pwjam

    I agree the president’s words were misleading, but I do have a few contrary opinions on some elements of your article.

    My individual plan has been canceled by my HMO every single year and I’ve been forced to pick from a list of plans that all provide a reduced set of benefits for (of course) a higher price. Every year for the past five years. I wish I could keep the plan I had five years ago, let alone the one I had this year. At least with the ACA I know I will be able to buy a plan rather than being denied for pre-existing conditions. Yes everyone’s current plans are being canceled, but at least this time it is so society can derive the benefits of everyone having an option for coverage.

    Also think you are missing a point with innovation and and risk taking: with the ACA you are no longer dependent on your employer for coverage, so more should be willing to take risks to start new businesses. Losing employer coverage is a big reason potential entrepreneurs fail to strike out on their own today.

    • David Zion

      Not to be mean but you seem to say you have pre-exisiting conditions. So when you say there is an upside to society in many people having their plans cancelled, the upside is that you do not have a problem getting cheap insurance. Specific people are being hurt by ObamaCare (some more and some less (like everyone who has insurance as a result of the new medical device tax)) and some specific people, like you are benefiting.

      • pwjam

        I am not offended by courteous challenges and don’t take your remarks as mean-spirited. I’ve never personally had a problem with pre-existing conditions impacting my health coverage. I do think access to basic preventive health care (not a Cadillac or even Toyota plan, but just a high deductible plan with basic preventive visits covered) is something that should be available to everyone, and should be subsidized for the low income. With the state of the exchange website in my state I haven’t been able to tell if I am benefiting or not yet.

  • Fred

    Of course Obamacare will wreck our health care system. But that’s not a bug; it’s a feature. It is designed to wreck the system so it can be replaced at some point by a European style system. That was the intent all along.

  • David Zion

    There is no free lunch, no matter how much we all love free lunch. That is what it comes down to. If insurance companies have to insure (and not charge more) for a smoker who has lung cancer and were too busy getting piercings and tattoos when young instead of buying insurance (to use the least sympathetic case) then, guess what, the insurance of the healthy person has to go up. So you do not have any kids or they are older, you have to pay for your neighbor’s 24 year old stoner son’s insurance. Remember, that is only fair. Plus every insurance plan in the country will go up bc of the 2.3% tax on medical equipment.

  • Corlyss

    “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

    I don’t know why such knowledge is necessary or useful at this point. We all know he lied or was uninformed. Either way, in a country where leadership mattered, he’d be out on his ear with last election. But incredibly the voters re-elected this diligent stupid man in Hammerstein-Equord’s matrix.

    What difference does it make to the realities on the ground? The dis-insuranced can’t sue him and his more diligent stupid advisors. The people knocked back to 30 hr work weeks can’t sue Max Baucus and Nancy Pellosi for restoration of their full-time jobs. This is all empty kabuki Washington finds so enthralling.

  • Matt B

    Obama didn’t lie. Lying requires you to make a statement that is contrary to what you know is true. I believe Obama made his statements without any concern for whether they were true or not. According to the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, that is properly called “Bull***t”.

  • Corlyss
  • lhfry

    “Like other truly talented phonies, Barack Obama concentrates his skills on the effect of his words on other people — most of whom do not have the time to become knowledgeable about the things he is talking about. Whether what he says bears any relationship to the facts is politically irrelevant.

    A talented con man, or a slick politician, does not waste his time trying to convince knowledgeable skeptics. His job is to keep the true believers believing. He is not going to convince the others anyway.”

    Analysis from Thomas Sowell:

    That the press “does not have the time to become knowledgeable about the things he is talking about” is a grave failing.

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