The American Spectator 02/21/2017
Rational observers of Obamacare’s accelerating implosion will be drawn inexorably toward the conclusion that it is, as Aetna chief executive Mark Bertolini put it last week, “in a death spiral.” However, as our friends on the left have clearly demonstrated since November, they are anything but rational. Thus, they continue to delude themselves that “reform” will somehow survive the laws of economics as well as the ire of the electorate. This fantasy has led to all manner of absurd claims about the law’s alleged accomplishments. The latest miracle they have attributed to Obamacare is a decline in the divorce rate.
Yes, you read that correctly. A couple of academics from the University of Kansas analyzed the impact of the law on divorce rates, and you won’t be surprised to learn that their “research” produced results “strongly suggesting that it reduced medical divorce” in states that complied with Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. They found that “expansion decreased the prevalence of divorce by 5.6% among those 50-64,” compared to states that didn’t comply. Are these data credible? Apparently not. Even the study’s author admitted to Fortune, “Overall, it’s tough to find valid statistics on medical divorce specifically.”
It’s far less difficult to determine what is driving such “research” or the disproportionate amount of coverage it gets in the media. Obamacare’s apologists are desperately casting about for some reason to justify its existence, and this has not been easy in recent weeks. Since the beginning of the year, all the legitimate news about the law has been bad. The year began with Congress taking its first procedural step toward repeal, President Trump’s executive order instructing all relevant executive branch agencies to slow walk implementation of Obamacare, and the cancelation of $5 million in Healthcare.gov ads.
But February has been the cruelest month of all for the moribund health care law. The month began with the announcement that Healthcare.gov signups for 2017 lagged far behind Obama administration projections. After the White House and congressional Democrats had repeatedly claimed that enrollment was skyrocketing to record highs due to public apprehension concerning President-elect Trump’s plans to repeal the “Affordable Care Act,” the actual figures fell short of last year’s totals. With typical chutzpah, congressional Democrats and the “news” media blamed the shortfall on President Trump.
The next blow fell about a week following the announcement of Obamacare’s anemic enrollment totals. After a couple of confirmation hearings during which the Democrats attempted to portray him as the Bernie Madoff of health care, the Senate confirmed Rep. Tom Price — a longtime advocate of Obamacare repeal — as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Secretary Price is perfect for the job, having practiced medicine for 20 years before he entered politics and enjoying nearly universal respect among health care policy experts of all political stripes. In other words, he is Obamacare’s worst nightmare.
The first HHS rule issued under Price’s leadership is designed to stabilize the chaotic, politically driven management of Obamacare’s enrollment periods and guaranteed availability that prevailed under his recent predecessors. It also permits insurers to ask individuals for previously unpaid premiums before enrolling them in new coverage, a change meant to put a halt to the widespread gaming of the law’s 90-day grace period provision to which the Obama administration turned a blind eye. Naturally, Obamacare pimps have denounced the new rule as a ploy “to increase the hassle of obtaining coverage.”
While these people were still reeling from the alacrity with which Price addressed PPACA’s chronic enrollment chaos, they were hit with what one has styled the “IRS stealth attack on Obamacare.” This outrage consists of a revised rule whereby the agency will continue to process tax returns that fail to state whether the filer had health coverage during the tax year. The IRS will thus treat the returns just as it has for the past two years, but Obamacare apologists complain that it will neuter the individual mandate. It’s hard to see this as a tragedy, but it’s a good bet that a lot of taxpayers will leave line 61 blank on their 1040s.
Finally, for any Obamacarians not already panicked by these developments, there is always the announcement last week by Humana that it is pulling completely out of the exchanges next year. This is particularly serious in places like Tennessee where Humana is the only insurer offering coverage through Obamacare’s “marketplaces” in at least 16 counties. This has the usual suspects yammering about corporate greed, but Humana lost $486 million in the fourth quarter of 2016. Humana will head for the same exits through which Aetna, UnitedHealth, and countless smaller insurers have escaped the Obamacare trap.
To paraphrase the immortal William F. Buckley, it would be sacrilegious to describe the Obamacare mess as anything less than God-awful. And this is why its dwindling cadre of advocates continues to produce farcical studies that purport to show hidden benefits that no one can see or hidden perils with repeal that no one believes. The objective data all point in one direction — Obamacare’s sincere supporters are divorced from reality and the nation badly needs a legal separation from the “Affordable Care Act.”