M.I.T. economist Jonathan Gruber kicked a PR hornet’s nest with a series of videotaped remarks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka ObamaCare. The condemnation has risen to the point that “getting Grubered” is now synonymous with getting hoodwinked.
However, a close look at the incendiary comments suggests the problem is not that we got Grubered. The problem is ObamaCare itself. Consider:
- Gruber claims the Cadillac tax will get passed on to families, something that Americans were too economically illiterate to recognize. The Cadillac tax will in fact get passed on, along with the health insurance tax, the so-called “Medicare surtax.” Perhaps you can make the case that families didn’t do the tax-by-tax math, but it was widely recognized that these would push up the cost of coverage. And they still do.
- Gruber claims ObamaCare is 90 percent coverage expansions and only 10 percent cost controls. Absolutely. He also claims nobody cares about the uninsured, which is wrong. The only real way to permanently help the uninsured is to control health care spending, which is why the American public objected so deeply to a program that will spend $2 trillion over the next decade. And still does.
- Gruber claims the ACA was written in a deliberately convoluted way so that the individual and employer mandates would not be recognized as taxes. Convoluted, absolutely. But nobody was fooled by the fact that the mandates eliminate the freedom of control and choice over a family’s income – just like taxes do. Families were discontented enough that it led to a Supreme Court case. And they still are.
- Gruber claims that politicians could not be transparent that ObamaCare would collect money from the younger and healthier only to pay the bills for the older and sicker. Maybe not, but anger at the ACA focused heavily on forcing people – especially the young – to buy more expensive insurance that they did not otherwise think was a good deal. And still don’t.
ObamaCare was unpopular from the start. Perhaps some in the administration did believe that a strategy of Grubering would solve this problem. If so, it was, and remains, a fool’s errand because the problem is the ACA itself.
The ACA is bad economic policy, contributing to the weak recovery and stagnation of the middle class. The ACA is bad budget policy, exacerbating an unsustainable rise in federal health spending that feeds red ink and a debt spiral. The ACA is bad health insurance policy that overrides the freedom of individual choice and imposes a 1970s style, top-down, regulatory apparatus that reverses the progress of the 1980s and 1990s. And the ACA is bad health care policy that does not bend the cost curve and will not transform the delivery system.
That’s the problem. Not Jonathan Gruber.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin is President of the American Action Forum. You can follow him on Twitter @djheakin.