Forcing People to Buy Useless, Expensive Insurance is Nothing to Gloat About

A new study from the Urban Institute has supporters of ObamaCare – what few still remain, anyway – touting how successful the law has been. Of course, it all depends on what your definition of “successful” is.

The main findings of the study are that the rate of uninsured Americans is lower today that it was a year ago. This should not be surprising to anyone, and the fact that defenders are trumpeting these results as some sort of victory is a bit puzzling. Of course fewer people are uninsured, because the Obama administration literally made being uninsured illegal. Americans are forced to buy insurance, or else face fines that are rapidly increasing. It would make about as much sense to pass a law compelling everyone to buy a car, and then boast about how the number of people without transportation had decreased. It’s simple cause and effect.

It’s also worth pointing out that quite a few “newly insured” being counted were already eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program before the law went into effect, and were therefore not “previously uninsured.”

What the study doesn’t show is whether the Affordable Care Act has been good for the country, or for the people living in it. If we assume that people act in their own self-interest (a weak assumption if ever there was one) it seems clear that forcing them to buy a product they otherwise would have gone without is self-evidently bad for them. If the deal was so good to begin with, why the need to use force?

Meanwhile, we can point to a great many undesirable effects from the law that are actually meaningful. The sheer number of health insurance policies is less important than whether those policies are actually useful. Deductibles for the cheapest “Bronze” plans under ObamaCare are set at a staggering $5,181 for 2015, up $100 from last year. This means that people are paying high premiums for a policy that is effectively useless until they shell out an additional five grand.

What kind of young, single person has that kind of cash to spare on health care? What good is it to force people to buy plans that will, in all likelihood, not actually benefit them? It’s rather a hollow boast to tout higher enrollment in a program that doesn’t help people.

In light of this, it’s not surprising that ObamaCare hit its lowest approval rate ever last month – just 37 percent. The political toxicity of the law was on full display during the elections, with Democrats going out of their way to distance themselves both from the president and their previous support of the ACA, and after the Republican wave of victories, ObamaCare has become even more divisive.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is now on record as saying that the ACA was the wrong policy and “wasn’t the change [Democrats] were hired to make.” Senator Tom Harkin has also recently criticized the law for being overly complex.

In the face of ever-increasing public opposition, and eroding support within the Democratic Party, to tautologically brag that “we forced people to buy insurance, so they bought insurance” just seems desperate, and little bit sad.