Democrats should pay a political price for this historic failure.
WSJ Editorial – Oct. 25, 2016
ObamaCare has suddenly been injected back into the 2016 election debate, on the news of the law’s 25%-plus average premium increase for 2017. Even Donald Trump is talking about it. With only two weeks to go, this is a moment for voters to hold accountable the Democrats who imposed this debacle on the country over voter objections.
Next year’s enormous price increases are merely the latest expression of ObamaCare’s underlying problems, and the dysfunction is undermining the health security of Americans who lack employer coverage. A wave of major insurers have quit the exchanges, and those that are left have raised deductibles and copays and restricted choices of doctors and hospitals. The public is witnessing—and the unlucky are experiencing—the collapse of one progressive promise after another.
At every stage of the ObamaCare saga, liberals said not to worry. Sure, the law was unpopular when Democrats rammed it through Congress on a partisan vote in 2009-10, but voters would learn to love it once the subsidies started rolling. That didn’t happen, and in 2014 President Obama tried to buck up Democrats by saying that “five years from now” people will look back on the law as “a monumental achievement.” Two years later it’s worse.
Nothing could Nothing could shake the liberal faith in their supposed landmark: Not the Healthcare.gov website fiasco of 2013, or the millions of individual health plans that were cancelled despite President Obama’s promise about keeping them. The left kept the faith as the entitlement subtracted from economic growth, hurt incomes and killed jobs. MIT economist Jonathan Gruber called the critics stupid, and Mr. Obama denigrates anyone who disagrees with him as illegitimate or politically motivated.
Now reality is confirming what the critics predicted. ObamaCare’s regulatory mix—benefit mandates, requiring insurers to sell coverage to all comers, and narrow ratings bands that limit how much premiums can vary by health status—was tried by several states in the 1980s and ’90s. Every one saw the same results that are now unspooling nationally: high and rising costs, low and declining enrollment, and less insurer and provider competition.
The Affordable Care Act was supposed to solve these predictable disruptions with subsidies and a mandate to buy insurance or pay a penalty. But most people don’t think ObamaCare plans provide value for the money, especially if they are non-subsidized.
So now the liberal line is that ObamaCare has a few problems, but don’t worry: The same geniuses who wrote the law know how to fix it. The Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren left wants a new “public option,” higher subsidies, more price controls and even more intrusive regulatory control. Hillary Clinton has endorsed all of this.
“The Affordable Care Act has done what it was designed to do,” Mr. Obama declared last week in Miami, apparently meaning that the law has reduced the number of uninsured. But most of the coverage gains have come from dumping patients into Medicaid, a failing program that provides substandard care. Nominally private exchange plans increasingly resemble Medicaid too.
Mrs. Clinton may be horse-whispering Ms. Warren now, but ObamaCare’s failures aren’t likely to bring the U.S. closer to their single-payer nirvana any time soon. ObamaCare was the best Democrats could do when they had a 60-vote Senate supermajority and bought off interest groups like the insurers, hospitals, drug makers and American Medical Association.
The only way to break the ObamaCare status quo is if the public returns a Republican Congress to Washington. If Republicans can hold the Senate amid a Clinton victory, they’d be in a better position to negotiate solutions along the lines of the House GOP “Better Way” blueprint that would start to repair the individual market and create incentives for more choice and competition.
Take Wisconsin, where Democrat Russ Feingold cast the deciding 60th vote for ObamaCare and voters fired him for it in 2010. He’s back hoping voters forget. Evan Bayh,who also cast the deciding vote before retiring to become a superlobbyist, is back facing Indiana voters and Hoosiers can deliver a verdict.
In Arizona, premiums will rise a mind-boggling 116%, only two insurers are still selling plans, and John McCain has made ObamaCare a major theme. His opponent, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, calls ObamaCare her “proudest vote.” Katie McGinty likes to say Pennsylvanians should be “proud of ObamaCare,” though the commonwealth is slated for a 53% increase. A memo about ObamaCare pride month must have gone out from Democratic HQ.
Mr. Trump has missed a chance by not prosecuting a consistent case against ObamaCare, despite Mrs. Clinton’s past as the chief architect of its HillaryCare prototype in the 1990s. As that episode shows, the longstanding progressive goal has been to centralize political control over American health care.
Now voters are finally seeing what happens when the planners try to design a single health-care solution for a large and diverse country. Mr. Obama called ObamaCare “a starter home” in Miami. Republicans ought to campaign as the bulldozer.