Health Care Remains, For Now, in the Waiting Room

President Donald Trump might yet grow bored with winning, but it probably won’t happen today. On Thursday the House of Representatives delayed a vote on the health care legislation Trump is backing, lest it go down to certain defeat, and even if they are swayed by his threat to drop the matter altogether if they don’t pass it by the end of this work day it won’t likely count as a win.
The vote was scheduled for Thursday because that was the seventh anniversary of the signing of the hated Obamacare law that the current legislation is intended to repeal and replace, as Republicans have been promising to do for the past seven years, and apparently the irony of the date was too much for the bill’s backers to resist. It came too soon for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to round up all the Republican votes needed to overcome the predictably unanimous Democratic opposition, though, and so far it is not apparent why Trump has decided that the matter must be resolved today or not at all. Nor is it apparent that Trump’s threats will sway any reluctant Republican votes, or that it would be a good thing if they did.
Although Trump is careful not to call the proposed plan “Trumpcare,” despite his usual penchant for putting his name on everything, he has fully invested his rapidly diminishing political capital into the project, and he’s threatened any dissenting Republicans with political consequences if they defy him. He’s a president who’s polling in the high 30s and low 40s, however, and the bill he’s pushing was at 17 percent approval in the latest poll, and the Republican dissenters have plenty of perfectly Republican reasons to offer their constituents, and the Democrats in their districts surely won’t mind the nay vote, so the threats rang rather hollow on Thursday and might again today. If even the reluctant House Republicans are cowed by the prospects of presidential “tweets” there’s still a big fight ahead in the Senate, and even if Trump can win over all the Republicans he has slandered in that body the bill he signs won’t necessarily be scored a victory.
As it stands now, the bill has something for everyone but a diehard 17 percent or so of the country to hate. The Democrats can’t stand any alteration to their beloved Obamacare, no matter how obvious its many shortcomings have become over the last seven years, and all us Republicans who were Republicans long before Trump joined the party are disappointed that the repeal isn’t root-and-branch and the replacement retains too many of its most infuriating assaults on individual liberty and economic logic. Obamacare’s promise of coverage for pre-existing conditions makes as much sense as letting people buy fire insurance after their house has burned down, but it polls through the roof and is therefore protected by the bill. The new bill would end subsidies to millions of Americans who rely on them for health care coverage, many of whom who will have undeniably tear-jerking stories to tell the newspapers and broadcast networks, and although most of them are now inadequately covered and driving up costs for others and would happily opt out of a system that’s hurtling toward insolvency Trump and Ryan and the rest of the Republicans have done a poor job of making that case.
There’s bound to something in even the worst legislation to like, and we find favor with the fact that the proposal would eliminate a number of Obamacare’s more ridiculous requirements. For the past seven years we’ve been arguing that the Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn’t be forced to pay for contraception coverage, monogamous married couples shouldn’t be forced to pay for potential sexually-transmitted diseases, and healthy young people earning starting salaries shouldn’t be stuck with anything more than catastrophic coverage, but somehow the Republicans are mangling even that argument for the bill. Our own snarly Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts tried to make the point by sarcastically telling a female reporter that “I’d hate to lose my mammogram coverage,” which was quickly construed to mean that Republicans were against mammograms and their bill would eliminate that coverage for those who might choose it, even though that wasn’t the case at all, and not being a reality star he wound up apologizing via “tweet,” which is pretty typical of how the Republicans’ public relations campaign has been going thus far.
Although Trump is the leader of the Republican that has majorities in both chambers of Congress, he’s not had much luck lining them up behind the bill he’s careful not to call “Trumpcare.” Any concessions he makes to the hard-liners only makes it harder to woo the squishy moderates in purple districts who dread all those inevitable tear-jerking stories about people who lost their healthcare, his threats of political retribution for anyone who defies his will grow more ridiculous with each passing ridiculous pronouncement and every public opinion poll, and Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to overthrow are looking equally inept. Now seems a good time for the party for stop and think through what it’s doing, but Trump has decided that it has to be done today, which is symbolic of nothing in particular, or that we’ll just have to put up with another four years of Obamacare.
Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t see why Trump and Congress and the rest of us can’t take a few more weeks or even a few more months to come up with something that both makes sense and scores more than 17 percent approval in the public opinion polls and might even get a Democratic vote or two from some purplish district. Back when Obamacare was passed we and everyone else who was a Republican at the time argued that the Democrats were hasty and reckless and obviously over-promising, and thanks to the anniversary-date vote that was planned for Thursday we’re reminded they took a full year to enact that stupid law, which passed without a single Republican vote and has haunted the Democratic Party ever since. We can’t help thinking that if the Republicans take just as much time, and come up with a sales pitch that avoids needless snark and doesn’t promise the coverage for everyone at much lower prices that Trump promised during their campaign, we might wind up with something that’s at least somewhat better.  If that’s not a next-news-cycle victory for Trump and his real estate negotiation style, so be it.

— Bud Norman

Good Enough For Government Work

Having failed to avert the catastrophic Obamacare train wreck, the Obama administration has lately been working hard to convince the public it likes the health care reform law anyway. This is a difficult chore requiring all sorts of silly arguments, but we were especially struck by the administration’s boast that the program is operating with “private sector velocity and efficiency.”
The claim is laughably untrue, of course, but at this point no one expects candor from the administration. What’s striking abut the statement, rather, is its admission that the private sector sets a standard of effectiveness which the public sector aspires to meet.
Some significant amount of the administration’s pride had to be swallowed in order to make such a confession. A white-hot hatred of those evil top-hatted, moustache-twirling businessmen and a warm fondness for the selfless virtues of government employees was the basic rationale of Obamacare, and of modern liberalism in general, so it must be embarrassing to the high-minded bureaucrats of the Obama administration to be reduced to bragging that they can get things done just as well as those profit-motivated private sector folks. The fact that the boast is not even close to true, and that this is now objectively apparent to even the most gullible observers, can only compound the embarrassment.
Our extensive experience of private sector workers tells us that they are, on the whole, as ethical and intelligent as their public sector counterparts, and we offer due respect for the good works they occasionally accomplish. Their consistent inability to match the performance of the average small business or large corporation is all a matter of incentives. Even the best of us respond to incentives, and it is inherent in the nature of the public sector that it offers all the wrong ones. The public sector offers incentives to give a major computer programming project to a firm with a poor business record but rich political connections, overpay for its services with money that the Federal Reserve is printing up as fast as the presses can roll, and never worry that anyone will be fired when it all goes spectacularly bad. Meanwhile, over at the private sector, where money has to be earned rather than printed, there is an overriding incentive to get things done right, on time, and in the least expensive way.
Back when Obamacare was still being debated its proponents made much of the obscene 3.3 percent profit margin that the insurance companies were making, which ranked a shocking 88th place among the nation’s industries, and the implication was that the altruistic bureaucrats would put all that filthy lucre to better use by healing the sick and exetnding the lives of old folks. By now it is clear that bureacratic inefficiencies will eat up at least that small slice of the nation’s health care costs, and spend at least a similar amount on advertising campaigns intended to convince the public otherwise, and the rationale for Obamacare is harder to defend.

— Bud Norman

Hooray for Hobby Lobby

None of our hobbies require the kinds of materials that are sold by the Hobby Lobby chain, and thus we have never so much as entered one of its stores, but it has nonetheless joined Koch Industries and the Wham-O Corporation as one of our favorite companies.
Hobby Lobby enjoys a stellar reputation for the quality and value of its goods, and by all accounts treats is customers and workers according to the highest standards of business ethics, but the reason for our newfound enthusiasm is the company’s legal challenge to one of the more appalling provisions of Obamacare. The widely hated health care reform law dictates that all companies provide insurance covering abortifacients to their employees, and the same Christian convictions that cause Hobby Lobby’s ownership to treat its customers and employees by the highest standards of business ethics also oppose any form of abortion, so the company has boldly vowed to take its conscientious objections all the way to the Supreme Court.
Even the most administration-friendly media are expecting Hobby Lobby to prevail, and we hope they are right. Compelling people with a moral revulsion to abortion is tyranny, as well as an absurd contradiction of the left’s self-righteous claim of being “pro-choice,” and if it is allowable within the constitution it is impossible to conceive what is not. The Supreme Court has already decreed that a constitution clearly intended to impose restraints on government power does not restrain the government from forcing individuals to purchase insurance they do not want or need, and if anyone engaged in commerce can be compelled to act against his conscience there are no limits.
An administration bent on enforcing the most disastrous provisions of its signature legislative accomplishment, except the ones that are most likely to hamper its party’s chances in the next election cycle, will expect to reap political advantage from its totalitarian power-grab. They’ll cite the case as an example of the opposition’s “war on women” to strengthen a grip on the young and unmarried women’s vote, portraying Hobby Lobby as a corporate villain working in cahoots with blue-nosed and moustache-twirling Republicans intent on inhibiting the consequence-free sex lives of the more hip-and-up-to-date segments of modern society, and they’ll no doubt find a susceptible audience among the younger female cohort. So far as we can tell Hobby Lobby has no rules regarding its employee’s sexual dabblings, save for a refusal to pay for its outcomes, but this will be of little matter to women who regard federal subsidies for their already affordable contraception expenses a natural right. We constantly assure our distaff Democrat friends how ardently we desire to live in a society where their sexual practices and contraception needs are none of our damn business, but they continue to insist that it be a matter of public policy.
Hobby Lobby’s admirably pro-choice position deserves support, and we’re almost tempted to take up scrapbooking as a pastime so we’ll have reason to patronize their business.

— Bud Norman

The Shutdown, Obamacare, and the Jobs Report

As we write this the latest jobs report has not yet been released, but it is so widely assumed to be horrible that the stock markets took an early plunge on Thursday and the administration has already started blaming the Republicans.
This time around the administration’s rationale is that nobody was hiring because of the government shutdown, which of course was entirely the fault of those mischievous Republicans, but the familiar ploy might prove harder to execute. This time around will require reminding a forgetful public that there was a government shutdown, which went largely unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t so unfortunate as to be taking trip to a national park during the brief interregnum, as well as a plausible explanation for why anyone in the private sector would have been deterred from hiring someone just because some non-essential public sector employees were enjoying a paid vacation at some private sector and happily operating locale. There was a chilling terror of a governmental default and consequent economic apocalypse, we are told, but anyone who had such an irrational fear could have only gotten such a crazy idea from the administration.
Blaming the government shutdown also runs the risk of reminding voters that it had something to do with the Republican’s unified opposition to Obamacare, which the administration is now hoping will be soon forgotten. Even the most loyal media were compelled to concede that the roll-out was a glitch-ridden fiasco, and the resulting ridicule was followed by harrowing stories of disillusioned Obama voters suddenly finding themselves without health insurance and facing exorbitantly higher costs as a result of Obamacare, and attempts to blame the Republicans and their unified opposition to the law have thus far proved unconvincing. The poll numbers have reached such a sorry point that the president went to the endlessly forgiving reporters of the NBC network to say how sorry he was for all the people who liked their insurance but lost it despite his repeated pledges that if they liked it they could keep it, period, even if it is the greedy insurance company’s fault. Even such a half-assed apology, delivered with the apparent arrogant expectation that it somehow will make things right to the president’s screwed-over former voters, amounts to an act of desperation by an administration so disinclined to apologize to anyone but Islamist terror regimes and communist tyrannies.
Today’s dismal jobs report does reflect the economic activity during the government shutdown, a point that will be widely noted in the obligatory news reports, but it also coincided with the botched Obamacare debut. That event also called into question in the full faith and credit of the federal government, and in ways that are seemingly permanent. Obamacare offers incentives for workers to cut back on their hours and earnings in order to qualify for its subsidies, and irresistible incentives for employers to cut back on their workers’ hours and earnings, and the administration is left with the unenviable task of convincing people those workers and companies are to blame to reacting according to their economic self-interests.
As the government shutdown fades further into an already memory, and the consequences of Obamacare linger in the jobs reports, apologies and finger-pointing will prove even less persuasive.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue Meets Obamacare

While browsing through the television channels Sunday afternoon during one of those interminable commercial breaks in a professional football game, we happened upon an advertisement for Obamacare. Although the spot didn’t mention Obamacare by name, it was extolling the wonders of the healthcare.gov web site that was intended to bring all the bountiful benefits of President Barack Obama’s namesake health care law to a grateful public. The very perky and pretty people featured in the advertisement seemed grateful, indeed, as they excitedly chanted the ad campaign’s catchphrase of “We’re covered!”
At the risk of sounding cynically suspicious of anything that Madison Avenue and the Washington bureaucracy might join forces to concoct, we’re pretty sure those grateful people are paid actors. They’re all perkier and prettier than any real people of our acquaintance, for one thing, and their gratitude for Obamacare greatly exceeds the normal person’s. They also look quite prosperous and up-to-date and free of any noticeable existing pre-conditions, hardly the sort of involuntarily uninsured hard-luck cases that Obamacare was intended to help, and given the widely-publicized difficulties that people have encountered in slogging through the healtcare.gov web site’s endless glitches, and given how many of those lucky few have experienced sticker shock at the prices posted at the end of the frustrating process, it seems unlikely that a sufficient number of people so very grateful could have been rounded up on such short notice since the law recently went into effect. The odds that these extraordinarily lucky few would all turn out to be so perky, pretty, prosperous, and up-to-date seem staggering. If our suspicions are correct they’re probably dues-paying members of the Screen Actors Guild and are grateful their policies might yet be protected by one of those waivers the government has been handing out to unions, which would explain how they managed to seem so darned sincere when chanting the “We’re covered!” catchphrase.
Still, it was an impressive piece of advertising. The spot had the same expensive look about it as the ones the big corporations were running to make their dubious pitches, with professional graphics and brisk editing and no oleaginous pitchmen wildly swinging their arms as they scream for the viewer to come on down and take advantage of their low, low prices. A peppy and professional soundtrack and the bright lighting and clear cinematography added to the upbeat feelings the ad inspires, much like in the ads intended to make buyers feel good about their choice of dishwashing lotion or cancer treatment center, and the fact that the ad avoided the words “Obamacare” or even the euphemistic “Affordable Care Act” suggests that it was carefully subjected to the scrutiny of countless focus groups.
Even with such formidable marketing, however, Obamacare will likely prove a tough sell. Insurance premiums are going up in most states, millions of people will lose the policies they had been promised they could keep, employers everywhere are offering only part-time work rather than deal with the costs and paperwork that now come with a full-time job, and the whole scheme requires persuading healthy young people with low-paying jobs and bleak prospects to pay higher prices for more insurance than they currently need. The ad we saw seems designed to convince the middle-class people least affected by Obamacare that it’s all for the good, those deficits and unemployment numbers and the potential loss of coverage notwithstanding, but it won’t do much to get that uninsured twenty-something with the rock band tattoo to slog through a computer program designed by the Three Stooges and pay money he doesn’t have for something he doesn’t need. Better ads than Obamacare have failed to create a market for better products than Obamacare, and the ones that make their pitch to the wrong audience always fail.
Perhaps some shrewd ad man can come up with something better suited to the young and healthy and uninsured, but it is hard to for an amateur to imagine what it might be. The pig on some other insurance company’s commercials seems to be popular with the young folk, but we wonder how many of them are signing up for his product, although we’re not sure what it. That “Flo” woman who represents another of the insurance has a youthful appeal and irreverent sense of humor, and looks as if she might even sport a tattoo or two beneath her white uniform, but we’re not sure what company she’s selling. If all else fails there’s also the old honesty shtick, and we can envision an ad with a hip-hop soundtrack and fashionably unshaven spokesmen telling a young audience that they voted for Obama and his hope and change slogans so now it’s time to pay up. Boondoggles such as Obamacare don’t come cheap, the ads could say, and neither do the advertising campaigns required to make you like it.

— Bud Norman

When the Truth Arrives in the Mail

How do you get your news? Some stubbornly old-fashioned folks still read it from the smudgy ink on the cut-rate paper that mysteriously arrives every morning on the driveway, and some are even so hidebound they continue to get it from the early evening newscasts that the broadcast networks still provide by force of habit. The more up-to-date among us now stay informed on the internet, where a variety of sites such as this one provide news and commentary suited to the reader’s preferred prejudices, or settle for the “tweet”-sized opinions of their slight acquaintances on social media. These days most people seem find the half-hourly news updates on the pop radio stations sufficient to keep them well-informed, or they try to infer what’s going on from the jokes on The Daily Show or the other late-night comedy programs, or they do their best to avoid the news altogether.
Almost all of these options tend to reiterate the liberal point of view, except to those daring souls who venture to dissident sites such as this one, but conservatives can take solace in knowing that every person still gets a heavy dose of irrefutable reality to counteract this in his mailbox. This explains the continuing and increasing unpopularity of Obamacare, which sounds great when reading about it in the newspapers or hearing about on the newscasts, but no longer seems as appealing when the costs at last show up in an official envelope. The President of the United States continues to assure the public that health insurance costs will go down as a result of the law, and that everyone satisfied with their current arrangements will be able to keep them, but no matter how many times he repeats the claims nor how many times the various media corroborate them millions of Americans will be more inclined to believe the bottom line of the bill that has arrived in the mail.
So many people have lately received contradictory information about Obamacare in the mail, with hefty payment demanded by the end of the month, that the cold, hard facts have begun to seep into even the most Obama-obeisant news reports. It’s gotten to the point that such an impeccably liberal publication as The San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper that still survives by its steadfast effort to shield its liberal Bay Area readership from any facts that might challenge its most cherished assumptions, was forced to acknowledge that not everyone will be pleased with Obamacare’s results. In an article headlined “Obamacare’s Winners and Losers in Bay Area” the newspaper struggled mightily to find a few sympathetic winners, but could not avoid interviewing some formerly enthusiastic losers.
The San Jose Mercury’s tiny minority of right-wing readers will have to be forgiven the schadenfreude they no doubt felt when reading about two die-hard Obama supporters admit that their health care costs will rise and their health care services decline as a result of the hilariously-named “Affordable Care Act.” One of the interviewees will see her health insurance costs increase by $1,800 a year, which she considers a significant amount for someone of her modest income, while another more affluent liberal will be forced to cough up an extra $10,000 per annum, which is a sizeable sum even by the standards of a well-heeled Bay Area liberal. Neither are yet willing to recant their devotion to the president or his historic legislative achievement, but both begrudgingly admit to nagging doubts with some quotes that conservatives will cherish.
“I was laughing at (House Speaker John) Boehner — until the mail came today,” said Tom Waschura, the 52-year-old self-employed engineer who received notice of the $10,000 price hike. “I really don’t like the Republican tactics, but at least now I can understand why they are so pissed about this. When you take $10,000 out of my family’s pocket each year, that’s otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not being going into our local economy.” An even more satisfying quote came from Cindy Vinson, the 60-year-old retired teacher stuck with the extra $1,800 deduction from her fixed income, who said “Of course I want people to have health care, I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”
To compound its journalistic heresy, The San Jose Mercury News also quotes a couple of health insurance experts who confirm that these are not mere anecdotes but examples of a much larger trend. One of the experts assures that “There’s going to be a number of people” receiving such rate shocks, and another explains that “The upper middle-class are the people who are essentially being asked to foot the bill, and that’s true across the country.” With 60-year-old retired teachers in the pricey Bay Area now included among the “upper middle class,” it will likely be a very large percentage of the country finding that the presidential promises will go unfulfilled.
The president and his press will continue to repeat those promises, but even Bay Area liberals are more likely to believe what they find in the mail. Any congressional Republicans thinking of going wobbly on the shut-down battle because of the negative would do well to remember this.

— Bud Norman

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