Conservatives Are Excited About Nothing In Statement About Obamacare

Once again we see that conservatives will quickly latch onto a headline which reinforces their biases, and then get so excited that they don’t bother to see if there is any substance. Some conservatives also seem to spend a lot of time looking for that big “gotcha” moment, again not caring whether it really means anything.

For the last couple of days multiple conservative blogs have been been excited about a video of Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at MIT who was involved in the writing of both Mitt Romney’s health care plan and the Affordable Care Act. The key portion they quote from a panel held last year is:

“You can’t do it political, you just literally cannot do it. Transparent financing and also transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that,” Gruber said. “In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”

Conservatives are excited by his words “lack of transparency” and “stupidity of the American voter”  but once you actually read his statement there isn’t anything there. Of course these words might sound totally different if we heard what was said before, but regardless this doesn’t mean what conservatives think it means.

First we see that the law was written to avoid calling the mandate a tax. No surprise considering the current political atmosphere where talking about taxes is toxic, even if for something beneficial. Politicians of both parties have gotten in the habit of finding ways to raise revenue without calling it a tax. Besides, the Supreme Court has already called this a tax, so if conservatives think they have something by finding evidence that this is secretly a tax, they are way behind. (Update: To be more precise, the Supreme Court did not call this a tax, but said that the penalties were constitutional because they were an exercise of Congress’s taxing authority.)

The other point in his statement  is that healthy people pay money in and sicker people benefit. That’s how insurance has always worked. This would be the case if there was no government involvement. A lot of people pay for insurance, not knowing if they will get sick in the future, and those who actually do get sick receive the benefits. The same is true for insurance against your house burning down. A lot of people whose house never burns down pay insurance, and a small number of people whose house actually burns down receive the benefits. Just like health insurance, it is a transfer from some people to other people.

Health insurance also would have worked this way under the health care plan proposed by the Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s in response to the Clinton plan. That plan had a lot in common with the Affordable Care Act, but conservatives didn’t object then. Health insurance worked this way before the Affordable Care Act–except then some people would pay in their premiums when healthy and get dumped from their insurance plan if they got sick and cost they cost the insurance company too much. That’s something far more serious to object to, and something fixed by the Affordable Care Act. It is a shame that conservatives are getting so excited about their objections to Obamacare and not about the real abuses which existed before this much needed reform.


The Hill reports that Gruber (who has a bad habit of calling the American people stupid) regrets his inappropriate choice of words:

“The comments in the video were made at an academic conference,” Gruber said on “Ronan Farrow Daily.” “I was speaking off the cuff. I basically spoke inappropriately. I regret having made those comments.”

The Hill also reports:

On Tuesday, Gruber said he only meant that much of ObamaCare’s financing was done through the tax code, calling that more “politically palatable” than other means.

“That was the only point I was making,” he said.

Gruber’s words would be far more meaningful if they came from Obama or someone high in his administration rather than from an academic consultant to both parties, or if he showed any actual deceit on the part of the Obama administration. Even if Gruber does think that Americans are too stupid to realize that a fine for not having insurance could be considered a tax, and that insurance is a transfer of money from some people to others, this has no bearing on the Obama administration and in no way diminishes the tremendous benefits we have received under the Affordable Care Act such as coverage at a lower cost for millions, including those who previously could not obtain coverage due to preexisting medical conditions or cost.

Besides, if you want to look at deceit, the real dishonesty came from Republicans who lied about death panels, the number of people obtaining coverage, the number not paying their premiums, the effects of the ACA on jobs and the economy, the cost of coverage, and falsely claimed that Obamacare is a government take over of health care.  Even when the lies are debunked, Republican politicians continue to repeat them. They are the ones who must think that Americans are stupid. When George Bush pushed through his Medicare drug plan, he not only lied about the cost, but threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary if he testified before Congress about the true cost. Now that is lack of transparency.

Update II:

Talking  Points Memo relayed a response from a White House spokesperson (emphasis mine):

“Transparency is a key goal of the ACA: consumers now have more access to information about their health insurance than ever before,” White House spokesperson Jessica Santillo said in a statement to TPM. “The Affordable Care Act was publicly debated over the course of 14 months, with dozens of Congressional hearings, and countless town halls, speeches, and debates.

“The tax credits in the law that help millions of middle class Americans afford coverage were no secret, and in fact were central to the legislation,” she continued. “Not only do we disagree with those comments, they’re simply not true.”

An administration official also noted to TPM that — while Gruber is often described as an “architect” of Obamacare because he was a key consultant to the administration and was heavily involved in developing the Massachusetts health reform law that served as a starting point for the ACA — “he did not work in the White House or play the same role in developing the Affordable Care Act.”