Shocked Face: Paul Krugman Was Wrong Again

File under: They’ll Give A Nobel In Economics To Anyone like, you know, Paul Krugman:

We won’t really know how Obamacare works until it has been in operation for a while; but we do know that essentially the same system has been running in Massachusetts since 2006, and is doing pretty well. The question, then, is whether other states that don’t have MA’s initial advantages — especially an already low uninsurance rate and an already operating system of community rating — can make this thing work. The big fear has been of sharply rising premiums as insurers are required to cover people with preexisting conditions. And the biggest test case was always going to be California.

Well, the preliminary numbers for CA are in — and they’re looking very good, with costs coming in below expectations. At this point, it looks as if this thing is indeed going to work.

It looks like progressivism’s beard was doing his happy dance a bit prematurely about those California numbers

Here’s what happened. Last week, Covered California—the name for the state’s Obamacare-compatible insurance exchange—released the rates that Californians will have to pay to enroll in the exchange.

“The rates submitted to Covered California for the 2014 individual market,” the state said in a press release, “ranged from two percent above to 29 percent below the 2013 average premium for small employer plans in California’s most populous regions.”

That’s the sentence that led to all of the triumphant commentary from the left. “This is a home run for consumers in every region of California,” exulted Peter Lee.

Except that Lee was making a misleading comparison. He was comparing apples—the plans that Californians buy today for themselves in a robust individual market—and oranges—the highly regulated plans that small employers purchase for their workers as a group. The difference is critical.

Obamacare to double individual-market premiums

If you’re a 25 year old male non-smoker, buying insurance for yourself, the cheapest plan on Obamacare’s exchanges is the catastrophic plan, which costs an average of $184 a month. (By “average,” I mean the median monthly premium across California’s 19 insurance rating regions.)

The next cheapest plan, the “bronze” comprehensive plan, costs $205 a month. But in 2013, on (NASDAQ:EHTH), the median cost of the five cheapest plans was only $92.

In other words, for the typical 25-year-old male non-smoking Californian, Obamacare will drive premiums up by between 100 and 123 percent.

Under Obamacare, only people under the age of 30 can participate in the slightly cheaper catastrophic plan. So if you’re 40, your cheapest option is the bronze plan. In California, the median price of a bronze plan for a 40-year-old male non-smoker will be $261.

But on eHealthInsurance, the median cost of the five cheapest plans was $121. That is, Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by an average of 116 percent.

Here’s the thing about these comprehensive, life-changing federal bureaucracy boondoggles: they always end up costing significantly more than their original projections. In fact, many of them sound positively wonderful at first if you’re the type who isn’t inherently put off by the government “helping”. Usually, the public has to wait around for years to find out just how expensive and ineffective such programs are. 

The train wreck-iness of the Affordable Care Act is so supersized that we’re getting plenty of advanced notice that it will be a nightmare. And it’s not just the right wing nut jobs like me who are complaining, some of its staunchest proponents are running for the hills

As Krugman said, California is going to be the ACA’s biggest test and, when not graded on a curve, it doesn’t look like it is going to do so well.

And while the good professor’s brand of Noble Laureate economic dementia may not be covered under Obamacare, worry not, he always has the same default excuse for bureaucratic failure at the ready: the government didn’t do enough. 

Bless his clueless heart.