Why Middle Class Plan Cancellations and “Rate Shock” are the Big Stories

Jonathan Chait and Kevin Drum both have posts today that lament that media has focused on cases of “rate shock” amongst the middle class instead of necessarily focusing on the millions of people receiving subsidies and those with pre-existing conditions finally being able to purchase insurance. Here’s Chait:

Why has their plight attained such singular prominence? Several factors have come together. The news media has a natural attraction to bad news over good. “Millions Set to Gain Low-Cost Insurance” is a less attractive story than “Florida Woman Facing Higher Costs.” Obama overstated the case when he repeatedly assured Americans that nobody would lose their current health-care plan. There’s also an economic bias at work. Victims of rate shock are middle-class, and their travails, in general, tend to attract far more lavish coverage than the problems of the poor. (Did you know that on November 1, millions of Americans suffered painful cuts to nutritional assistance? Not a single Sunday-morning talk-show mentioned it.)

Drum adds:

In addition, I can only assume that writing about the people who are benefiting from Obamacare would strike DC reporters as a little too much like shilling for the Obama administration.

The real reason that the media has focused on the middle class has three reason. First, Obama lied to them about keeping their plans (Chait mentions this). Liberals continue to underestimate how infuriating this is to the average American. Obama sold the law on the premise that anyone who liked their plans would get to keep them. They would get to keep their network and doctors as well. This was a crystal clear message from the president so that people wouldn’t be spooked about change. This has nothing to do with whether this change is necessary (it is). The fact is Obama lied to get his law passed. The Americans he lied to are predominantly middle class ones who are purchasing insurance through the exchange and are not eligible for Medicare. Is it surprising that the media’s attention has been focused on the people Obama lied to in order to pass the Affordable Care Act?

Second, liberals bought into the framework that Obamacare would be judged based on “rate shock.” This isn’t necessarily a fair way to judge law. Some people will pay more for more comprehensive coverage, others will pay less for better coverage, some will pay more for worse coverage and others will have the chance to purchase insurance for the first time. The effects of Obamacare are more than just the sticker price of insurance, even after subsidies are factored in. The law requires insurers to cover 10 essential health benefits, places limits on the deductible, and eliminates the cap on lifetime costs. These are all important aspects of Obamacare that drive up rates.

The problem is that for months now, health wonks have spent most of their time arguing about rates under Obamacare. That’s been the focal point of discussion. Not surprisingly, the law is being judged based on “rate shock” now. However, to be fair to the law’s supporters, this was always going to put them at a disadvantage as the easiest way to evaluate Obamacare is by what happens with insurance rates.

Finally, the failures of HealthCare.gov have ensured that the focus will be on all those receiving cancellation letters. If the website functioned properly, many Americans who found out their plans were cancelled would log on to the federal exchange, see they are eligible for subsidies and cheaper plans, and become happy supporters of the law. Others would find out their plan is still more expensive and continue to be furious at the administration. But under that scenario, some of the stories of middle class Americans receiving notices that their plans were discontinued would be alleviated. That would help relieve much of the pressure that the White House is under. Unfortunately, they royally screwed up the website.

Thus, the media’s focus on middle class cancellation notices and “rate shock” is the result of Obama’s lie, a misleading framework for evaluating the law and HealthCare.gov’s catastrophic launch. Without the president’s deceit and the marketplace’s struggles, the media would have had many more opportunities to cover the law in a positive light. Unfortunately, the administration never gave them that opportunity.

Universal Background Checks Are a Good Idea

I apologize in advance for writing this so soon after yesterday’s tragic shooting at the Navy Base. But there’s one conservative argument on gun control, professed on Twitter repeatedly by National Review’s Charles Cooke, that I have to address.

Here are a couple of Cooke’s tweets from yesterday evening the infuriated me:

cooke 2

First, of course all these mass shooters pass background checks or find a way around the system. Any person who fails a background check and doesn’t circumvent the system doesn’t become a mass shooter, because they don’t get a gun. And you know what they also don’t do? They don’t show up at the local police station or research institution and declare that if not for failing a background check, they would’ve gone on a shooting rampage. This means there aren’t any news stories about background checks preventing homicides, but we do have academic evidence on their effectiveness. And guess what the evidence says? Background checks help prevent shootings.

Second, background checks did not stop today’s shooter. That’s a fact. But just because a background check didn’t prevent today’s tragedy, that doesn’t mean a background check won’t prevent a future one. No one is saying that universal background checks are going to stop all shootings or even most shootings. But they could make a difference on the margin. Given that both the compliance costs and infringement on freedom are tiny, that marginal difference is worth it.

Cooke advocates enforcing current laws, something that could’ve stopped yesterday’s shooter. Absolutely. I 100 percent agree. But that shouldn’t be the end of gun control. Background checks work and they are minimally intrusive. Just because they couldn’t have stopped yesterday’s shooting doesn’t mean they aren’t a good idea.

How Do You Measure Presidential Leadership?

You hear all the time that President Obama cannot lead. He doesn’t reach across the aisle. He has a poor relationship with Congress.

That seems to be a widely assumed fact throughout D.C. Many people (including myself) doubt that the President would accomplish anything more even if he was a better leader. But most people seem to assume that this president just isn’t a very good leader.

But is this true? It’s tough to be a good leader when half your followers are committed to undermining your every move. Is there anything the President could’ve done to convince Republicans to work with him? I’m doubtful, but I’m also new to politics and new to D.C. so I have trouble putting President Obama’s leadership skills in context. Did former presidents work better with Congress? Did they show more deference to the institution?

At the National Journal’s policy summit yesterday on America’s fiscal condition, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered a clue when he spoke about a dinner he had with the President:

We had supper in the family dining room – it was the first time in my 37 years that I was ever in the family dining room.

Senator Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate and during all his time there throughout a number of different administrations, he had never been invited to dine in the family dining room. Based on a bit of googling, the dinner Hatch is referring seems to have taken place on April 10 of this year with a dozen different Senators.

This is one tiny little data point, but it puts things in a bit of context for me. I don’t know how to judge the President’s leadership skills. I don’t think there is a simple metric for doing so. But for those that say the President doesn’t lead, what do they think dining with a dozen Republican senators in the family dining room is? I’m sure they’ll respond that it’s one moment of leadership amidst a sea of disdain towards Congressional Republicans and that it took until Obama’s second term for him to host the dinner. But this a moment of leadership that Hatch never saw from a previous President. I don’t know if any of the other Senators had dined in the family dining room before. I’m sure at least some others had not.

Not surprisingly, the dinner didn’t seem to help the budget negotiations, but it still puts those criticisms of the President in a bit of context for me. I’d love to hear more. In the meantime though, I’m taking the “Obama can’t lead” complaint with a grain of salt.