Tag: jonathan cohn

The New Republic: Obama Kinda Lied a Little about Obamacare

On Monday, The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn admitted that President Obama “made a misleading statement about Obamacare rates” during his press conference on Friday. The magazine’s Twitter feed (@tnr) announced:

Whoops! The president (accidentally, we think) told a little #Obamacare lie on Friday.

During his press conference, the president said:

[When it comes to people without access to employer-sponsored coverage,] 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. 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. [Emphasis added.]

The problem, Cohn writes, is that:

while some people will pay less than they pay today, some will pay more. They will primarily be young, healthy men who benefited from preferential pricing in the past, were content with coverage that had huge gaps, and are too wealthy to qualify for the law’s tax credits—which are substantial but phase out at higher incomes…

But somebody listening to Obama’s press conference probably wouldn’t grasp that distinction. They’d come away thinking their insurance will be cheaper next year. For some, it won’t be. Obama isn’t doing himself, or the law, any favors by fostering a false expectation.

ObamaCare, Democracy, and Jonathan Cohn

At The New Republic’s blog, Jonathan Cohn grumbles about the insolence of ObamaCare opponents:

Across the country, Republican state officials vilify the law…In Washington, Republican members of Congress are trying to undermine the law by denying funding for outreach and implementation. According to a report by Elise Viebeck  in The Hill, a few Republicans have suggested they won’t help constituents having trouble enrolling in the new insurance options. And, as Anne Kim and Ed Kilgore from the Washington Monthly recently reported, they’re even refusing to work with churches on crafting a bipartisan fix to what looks like a predictable, if inevitable, glitch in the law’s drafting.

Nobody expects Republicans to praise Obamacare or to give up efforts at repeal, assuming they feel strongly about it. But, as long as Obamacare remains on the books, don’t even its critics have some obligation to enforce the law in good faith? Shouldn’t they be helping constituents without insurance to take advantage of the law’s new options?

Let’s first examine the absurdity of Cohn complaining that “Republican members of Congress are trying to undermine the law by denying funding for outreach and implementation.” Wait, you mean ObamaCare didn’t include enough funding for its own implementation? How does the fault for that lie with congressional Republicans (who opposed this law), rather than congressional Democrats (who enacted it with inadequate funding)? Doesn’t the need for additional funding mean ObamaCare will cost more than supporters claimed when they enacted it? And wasn’t that an accusation they denied? Shouldn’t Cohn be criticizing Democrats for that, too? Does Cohn really mean to say that legislators have a duty to vote to fund a law they want to repeal? Does he also believe legislators have a duty to fund “outreach and implementation” for anti-sodomy laws? What about voter-ID laws? Marijuana prohibition is horribly under-funded; think of all the users who don’t go to jail. Do legislators have a duty to ensure those laws are fully funded and implemented? Do they have a duty to fix any glitches in those laws?

As for Cohn’s question, “as long as Obamacare remains on the books, don’t even its critics have some obligation to enforce the law in good faith?” Any middle-school civics student could tell him the answer is “no.” In our system of government, the executive branch enforces the law, not the legislature, and not the citizenry. So with respect to the federal government, that means there are exactly zero ObamaCare opponents who have a duty to enforce this law. The Supreme Court has clarified that nobody at the state level has a duty to enforce it, either. Given that many opponents (including me) believe ObamaCare to be an unjust law, we could go farther and say critics have a moral duty to resist or disobey itFinally, it’s hard to take Cohn seriously when Jonathan Adler and I are trying to get the Obama administration to enforce the law in good faith, yet Cohn is trying to stop us.

ObamaCare Implementation News

Here’s some ObamaCare implementation news from around the interwebs:

  • Minnesota Facing Bigger Bill For State’s Health Insurance Exchange”: Kaiser Health News reports Minnesota has increased its spending projections for operating the state’s ObamaCare Exchange by somewhere between 35-80 percent for 2015. Spending on the Exchange will rise by another 19 percent in the following year.
  • The Wall Street Journal  defends the 25-30 states that aren’t gullible enough to create an Exchange and therefore take the blame for ObamaCare’s higher-than-projected costs.
  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has announced she will not implement an Exchange. That creates another potential state-plaintiff, millions of potential employer-plaintiffs, and (by my count) 430,000 potential individual plaintiffs who could join Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt in challenging the IRS’s illegal ObamaCare taxes. It also means that Arizona can start luring jobs away from tax-happy California. There are four Hostess bakeries in California that might be looking to relocate.
  • I’m enjoying a friendly debate with The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn and University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos over whether the those taxes really do violate federal law and congressional intent (spoiler alert: they do). I owe Bagenstos a response.
  • PolitiFact Georgia rated false my claim that operating an ObamaCare Exchange would violate Georgia law. I explain here why it is indeed illegal for Georgia (and 13 other states) to implement an Exchange.
  • ThinkProgress.org reports, “Romney’s Transition Chief Is Encouraging States To Implement Obamacare.” A better headline would have been, “Government Contractor Encourages More Government Contracts.”
  • The Washington Examiner editorializes, “In California…state regulators have warned…insurance premiums will rise by as much as 25 percent once the exchange comes online…That’s the best-case scenario.” And, “In 2014, seven Democratic Senate seats will be up for grabs in states Mitt Romney carried (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia). Unless Obama’s HHS bureaucrats pull off an unprecedented miracle of central planning, Obamacare could well sink Democrats again in 2014, the same way it did in 2010.”

Why ‘Obamacare’s Critics Refuse to Give Up’

Jonathan Adler and I have a paper titled, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA.” Our central claims are:

  1. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act explicitly restricts its “premium-assistance tax credits” (and thus the “cost-sharing subsidies” and employer- and individual-mandate penalties those tax credits trigger) to health insurance “exchanges” established by states;
  2. The IRS has no authority to offer those entitlements or impose those taxes in states that opt not to create Exchanges; and
  3. The IRS’s ongoing attempt to impose those taxes and issue those entitlements through Exchanges established by the federal government is contrary to congressional intent and the clear language of the Act.

Over at The New Republic’s blog The Plank, my friend Jonathan Cohn says this is “preposterous”:

No sentient being following the health care debate could argue, in good faith, that Obamacare’s architects intended for the federal government to set up exchanges without subsidies. It would completely subvert the law’s intent.

It appears my friend does not know the statute, the legislative history, or what Congress’ intent was.

Cohn writes that the statute is “a little fuzzy” on this issue. Quite the contrary: the statute is crystal clear. It explicitly and laboriously restricts tax credits to those who buy health insurance in Exchanges “established by the State under section 1311.” There is no parallel language – none whatsoever – granting eligibility through Exchanges established by the federal government (section 1321). The tax-credit eligibility rules are so tightly worded, they seem designed to prevent precisely what the IRS is trying to do.

ObamaCare supporters just know that can’t be right. It must have been an oversight. Congress could not have written the law that way. It doesn’t make any sense. Those provisions must take effect in federal Exchanges for the law to work. Why would Congress give states the power to blow the whole thing up??

The answer is that Congress didn’t have any choice. Congress intended for ObamaCare to work this way because this was the only way that ObamaCare could become law.

  • The Senate bill had to have state-run Exchanges in order to win the essential votes of moderate Democrats. Without state-run Exchanges, it would not have passed.
  • In order to have state-run Exchanges, the bill needed some way to encourage states to create them without “commandeering” the states. In early 2009, well before House and Senate Democrats introduced their bills, an influential law professor named Timothy Jost advised congressional Democrats of one way to get around the commandeering problem: “Congress could invite state participation…by offering tax subsidies for insurance only in states that complied with federal requirements…”. Both the Finance bill and the HELP bill made premium assistance conditional on state compliance. Senate Democrats settled on the Finance language, which passed without a vote to spare. (Emphasis added.)
  • The Finance Committee had even more reason to condition tax credits on state compliance: it doesn’t have direct jurisdiction over health insurance. Conditioning the tax credits on state compliance was the only way the Committee could even consider legislation directing states to establish Exchanges. Committee chairman Max Baucus admitted this during mark-up.
  • Then something funny happened. Massachusetts voters sent Republican Scott Brown to the Senate, partly due to his pledge to prevent any compromise between the House and Senate bills from passing the Senate. With no other options, House Democrats swallowed hard and passed Senate bill. (They made limited amendments through the reconciliation process. These amendments did not touch the tax-credit eligibility rules, and indeed strengthen the case against the IRS.)

A law limiting tax credits to state-created Exchanges, therefore, is exactly what Congress intended, because Congress had no other choice. On the day Scott Brown took office, any and all other approaches to Exchanges ceased to embody congressional intent. If Congress had intended for some other approach to become law, there would be no law. What made it all palatable was that it never occurred to ObamaCare supporters that states would refuse to comply. The New York Times reports, “Mr. Obama and lawmakers assumed that every state would set up its own exchange.”

Oops.

The only preposterous parts of this debate are the legal theories that the IRS and its defenders have offered to support the Obama administration’s unlawful attempt to create entitlements and impose taxes that Congress clearly and intentionally did not authorize. (But don’t take my word for it. Read the statute. Read our paper. Read this, and this. Watch this video and our debate with Jost. Click on our links to all the stuff the IRS and Treasury and Jost have written.) I wonder if Cohn would tolerate such lawlessness from a Republican administration.

Cohn further claims the many states that are refusing to create Exchanges are “totally sticking it to their own citizens” and people who encourage them “are essentially calling upon states to block their citizens from receiving federal tax breaks, worth as much as several thousand dollars per person. Aren’t conservatives and libertarians supposed to be the party that likes giving tax money back to the people?” Seriously?

  • Fourteen states have enacted statutes or constitutional amendments – often by referendum, often by huge margins – that prohibit state employees from directly or indirectly participating in an essential Exchange function: implementing employer or individual mandates. In those instances, the voters have spoken.
  • Only 22 percent of the budgetary impact of these credits and subsidies is actual tax reduction, and the employer- and individual-mandate penalties triggered by those tax “credits” wipe out most of that. The other 78 percent is new deficit spending. So what we’re really talking about here is $700 billion of new deficit spending.
  • When states refuse to establish Exchanges, they block that new spending, which reduces the deficit and the overall burden of government.
  • In addition, those states exempt their employers from the employer mandate (a tax of $2,000 per worker) and exempt millions of taxpayers from the individual mandate (a tax of $2,085 on families of four earning as little as $24,000).

Who’s for tax cuts now?

Here’s what I think is really bothering Cohn and other ObamaCare supporters. The purpose of those credits and subsidies is to shift the cost of ObamaCare’s community-rating price controls and individual mandate to taxpayers, so that consumers don’t notice them. When states prevent such cost-shifting, they’re not increasing the cost of ObamaCare – they’re revealing it.

And that’s what worries Cohn. If the full cost of ObamaCare appears in people’s health insurance premiums, people will rise up and demand that Congress get rid of it. Cohn isn’t worried about states “sticking it to their citizens.” He’s worried about states sticking it to ObamaCare.

The title of Cohn’s blog post is, “Obamacare’s Critics Refuse to Give Up.” At least we can agree on that much.

The CLASS Act: This Is Confidence-Inspiring?

In the Daily Caller, I explain how the failure of ObamaCare’s “CLASS Act” highlights the fatal flaws in the rest of the law:

As it turns out, CLASS collapsed even before its 2012 start date. The same thing happened when Obamacare imposed the same sort of price controls on health insurance for children in September 2010: the markets for child-only coverage collapsed in a total of 17 states, and are slowly collapsing in even more…

In the face of this setback, Obamacare supporters are naturally declaring victory. Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic sees “vindication.” Kevin Drum of Mother Jones proudly announces, “What happened here is that government worked exactly the way it ought to.” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein instructs, “The CLASS experience should, if anything, make us more confident in the underlying law.” It’s hard to argue with such logic, but let’s try…

Obamacare inspires confidence in its supporters, then, because one part of the law throws a Hail Mary pass to prevent another part of the law from stripping Americans of the insurance that currently protects them from illness and impoverishment. Feel safer?

So if you’d like secure protection from illness and impoverishment, repeal ObamaCare. Or say your prayers.

On ObamaCare, David Frum Just Doesn’t Get It

David Frum knows that ObamaCare can’t be repealed.  But don’t worry, he also knows how to make it palatable to Republicans:

  1. Move up the start date of ObamaCare’s state waiver program from 2017 to 2014.  As I explain here, that program will only produce alternatives to ObamaCare that are equally or more anti-market, such as a single-payer system.  Frum wants that to happen sooner.
  2. Raise taxes, on everybody.  I swear I am not making that up.
  3. Replace ObamaCare’s individual mandate with an equally coercive tax credit that accomplishes the same thing, but which the courts would probably uphold.  Bra-vo.  Frum implies it is necessary to “work around” the fact that Republicans are not “entirely rational” when it comes to the individual mandate.  (True, but they’re getting more rational all the time.)
  4. Republicans should embrace government rationing of health care.  Frum counsels Republicans to “unleash the cost controllers” and become the “green eyeshade party willing to do the disagreeable work of squeezing waste from the system.”  How?  Well, he doesn’t call for Medicare vouchers, under which enrollees would ration their own care.  In fact, he has thrown cold water on that idea.  But the only alternative is to have the government ration care.  And Frum makes no distinctions between the elderly and non-elderly, which leads me to believe he wants Republicans to ration care to the under-65 crowd too.  Slap that on a bumper sticker!

In sum, Frum’s GOP-palatable alternative to ObamaCare is … ObamaCare.  But maybe more coercive.  And implemented sooner.  With higher taxes.  And less vulnerable to legal challenges.  And with Republicans playing the bad guy.

Frum laments that Republicans mistakenly threw away the opportunity to work with Democrats to implement these brilliant ideas in 2009 and 2010.  But Republicans did so because these brilliant ideas hurt people.  They were wrapped into a bill called ObamaCare, and Republicans rejected it.  They were right to do so.  And they are right that ObamaCare can’t be fixed.

(Related: Ramesh Ponnuru previously took down Ross Douthat’s ideas for fixing ObamaCare.)

(Also related: CNN has signed Frum to provide conservative commentary during the 2012 election.)

ObamaCare Supporters Are Over-Interpreting Oregon Medicaid Study

Columbia Business School economist Ray Fisman has a piece at Slate.com discussing the first-year results of the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment.  In brief, when Oregon transferred an average of $3,000 from taxpayers to poor people in the form of Medicaid coverage, it did those poor people some good.

Fisman’s interpretation of the results is different from mine in mainly two respects.  First, I describe the one-year benefits of Medicaid coverage as modest; he says they’re “enormous.”

A more fundamental difference concerns whether expanding Medicaid was a cost-effective use of the taxpayers’ money.  Fisman writes:

Given the added expense, did the Medicaid expansion prove to be cost-effective? That is, did the treatment group actually have better health outcomes?

That’s not what cost-effectiveness means.  For Medicaid to be cost-effective, it must (A) produce benefits and (B) do so at the same or a lower cost than the alternatives.

The OHIE establishes only that there are some (modest) benefits to expanding Medicaid (to poor people) (after one year).  It tells us next to nothing about the costs of producing those benefits, which include not just the transfers from taxpayers but also any behavioral changes on the part of Medicaid enrollees, such as reductions in work effort or asset accumulation induced by this means-tested program.  Nor does it tell us anything about the costs and benefits of alternative policies.

Just as some opponents of ObamaCare over-interpreted previous Medicaid studies, Fisman and other ObamaCare supporters are over-interpreting the OHIE.