Yesterday in the NYT Paul Krugman wrote a stinging critique of Barack Obama’s non-compulsory, non-universal, non-subsidized giveaway to the big insurance corporations, and illustrates the right-wing lies he has been harping on to promote it. The scariest part for me is that Krugman, one of few eminent economists whose opinion I respect, actually thinks Hillary’s plan is better and I thought that was a blatant capitulation to corporate power.
It is as I had feared: Obama lost his “audacity” when he allowed the handlers to takeover and has made so many rookie mistakes and strayed so far from the strong moral stances he once took that he has become an vague, non-committal equivocator like Hilary Clinton, except he has staked out the ground to the right of her.
The Mandate Muddle
By Paul Krugman
December 7, 2007
Imagine this: It’s the summer of 2009, and
President Barack Obama is about to unveil his plan for universal health
care. But his health policy experts have done the math, and they’ve
concluded that the plan really needs to include a requirement that
everyone have health insurance — a so-called mandate.
Without a mandate, they find, the plan will fall far short of
universal coverage. Worse yet, without a mandate health insurance will
be much more expensive than it should be for those who do choose to buy
But Mr. Obama knows that if he tries to include a mandate in
the plan, he’ll face a barrage of misleading attacks from conservatives
who oppose universal health care in any form. And he’ll have trouble
responding — because he made the very same misleading attacks on
Hillary Clinton and John Edwards during the race for the Democratic
O.K., before I go any further, let’s be clear: there
is a huge divide between Republicans and Democrats on health care, and
the Obama plan — although weaker than the Edwards or Clinton plans — is
very much on the Democratic side of that divide.
But lately Mr.
Obama has been stressing his differences with his rivals by attacking
their plans from the right — which means that he has been giving
credence to false talking points that will be used against any
Democratic health care plan a couple of years from now.
the claim that a mandate is unenforceable. Mr. Obama’s advisers have
seized on the widely cited statistic that 15 percent of drivers are
uninsured, even though insurance is legally required.
statistic is known to be seriously overstated — and some states have
managed to get the number of uninsured drivers down to as little as 2
percent. Besides, while the enforcement of car insurance mandates isn’t
perfect, it does greatly increase the number of insured drivers.
why talk about car insurance rather than looking at direct evidence on
how health care mandates perform? Other countries — notably Switzerland
and the Netherlands — already have such mandates. And guess what? They
The second false claim is that people won’t be able to afford the
insurance they’re required to have — a claim usually supported with
data about how expensive insurance is. But all the Democratic plans
include subsidies to lower-income families to help them pay for
insurance, plus a promise to increase the subsidies if they prove
In fact, the Edwards and Clinton plans contain more
money for such subsidies than the Obama plan. If low-income families
find insurance unaffordable under these plans, they’ll find it even
less affordable under the Obama plan.
By the way, the limitations
of the Massachusetts plan to cover all the state’s uninsured — which is
actually doing much better than most reports suggest — come not from
the difficulty of enforcing mandates, but from the fact that the state
hasn’t yet allocated enough money for subsidies.
Obama is storing up trouble for health reformers by suggesting that
there is something nasty about plans that “force every American to buy
Look, the point of a mandate isn’t to dictate how
people should live their lives — it’s to prevent some people from
gaming the system. Under the Obama plan, healthy people could choose
not to buy insurance, then sign up for it if they developed health
problems later. This would lead to higher premiums for everyone else.
It would reward the irresponsible, while punishing those who did the
right thing and bought insurance while they were healthy.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.