Former president Bill Clinton, who currently serves in the unofficial capacity of the current president’s “secretary in charge of explaining stuff,” has lately taken on the difficult chore of explaining Obamacare. In recent speeches and interviews he seemed to be trying to explain how the health care reform law will work so wonderfully that everyone will eventually learn to love it, an impossibly difficult chore even for a charlatan of Clinton’s talents, but he wound up explaining why it won’t work at all.
You’d be hard-pressed to find the fatal flaw in the networks’ coverage of Clinton’s much-ballyhooed joint appearance with President Barack Obama, which was devoted mostly to a star-struck awe at the assembled celebrity and much chuckling at Hillary’s joshing introduction and the obligatory recitations of Obama’s “secretary in charge of explaining stuff” honorific. All the top reporters described Clinton’s defense of Obamacare as “detailed,” but they provided few of those details. Although there was some vague acknowledgement that Clinton described a few piddly problems with the law to prove his objectivity and principled partisanship, only the conservative press was gauche enough to mention that Clinton conceded “This only works, for example, if young people show up.”
Anyone with first-hand experience of today’s young people will immediately be alarmed that the success of such an ambitious and expensive program as Obamacare is contingent upon them showing up. Just try getting a timely cup of coffee from the tattooed twenty-something at your local bohemian haunt and you’ll note that their attendance record is spotty at best. When they do show up they’re usually distracted from the matters at hand by some illegibly abbreviated text message, or the monotonous pop music of the moment piped by earphones into their shaggy heads, and even at their most attentive they don’t seem the sorts of people you would want to base the success of a major federal initiative upon.
Worse yet, Clinton expects young people to not only show up but also to shell out significant sums of money for something they don’t want and likely won’t need. “We’ve got to have them in the pools,” Clinton said, “because otherwise all these projected low costs cannot be held if older people with preexisting conditions are disproportionately represented in any given state.” A more frank, and therefore less Clintonian, way of putting it is that Obamacare depends on healthy young people paying premiums for insurance they won’t use in order to pay for a hip replacement on some geezer they’ve never met and probably wouldn’t like. Young people can be quite sincere about social justice when it means that wealth is redistributed to them, but Clinton is seriously overestimating youthful idealism if he expects the youth of today to go along with this plan.
There’s a much-hated “individual mandate” in Obamacare that compels buying insurance, which will be even more hated when the young people are forced to look at the bill in between texts, but for the next several years the fines will be cheaper than the insurance and thus seem a better deal to a typical teenager or twenty-something. The average healthy young person might be persuaded that a low-cost policy insuring against automobile wrecks or out-of-the-blue diseases is worth buying, but such arrangements are now illegal. Lacking any legal or economic rationale for buying any of the restricted number of plans available under Obamacare, the only reason young people have for buying in is to show support for the president who is sticking them with a sizeable health care bill.
Any sore feelings among Obama’s young supporters will supposedly be soothed by the all the subsidies that are going to be offered, but those costs will fall on the taxpayers or the national debt that young folks will be expected to eventually pay and it won’t make Obamacare economically viable. The costs that Obamacare imposes on employers also make it less likely that young people will ever get a job that pays well enough or for enough hours to pay the health care costs, making it more likely that they’ll take the subsidies and send the costs to already overburdened or taxpayers or pay it off themselves later when the debt at last comes due. Many young people will simply stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old, another big selling point of the Obamacare law, but only in the increasingly unlikely event their parents get to keep their jobs or their employers continue to provide insurance.
There’s still a faint hope that those crazed fringe Republicans can withhold the money for Obamacare, but there’s no chance at all the law will work as promised. Even Bill Clinton tells us so.

— Bud Norman

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