Obamacare is hurting millions of people–much to the surprise of the mainstream media, which failed to examine the law before it passed.
(They left that task to the fledgling Tea Party, which they then called racist for its trouble).
Yet amidst the broken website, the stories of millions of people losing their insurance, and the stories yet to come of people losing their doctors, Obamacare does have a few real-life beneficiaries.
Meet Richard Hymes. He is a private chauffeur in Los Angeles, and a genuinely good guy. I met him when he drove me to the CNN studios in Hollywood on Thursday for an appearance on Canada’s Sun News. He pointed out all the sights on Sunset Boulevard and talked politics a bit, mentioning that he had just signed up for Obamacare through Covered California.
He was pretty happy about it–the first satisfied customer I’d met. So I asked him to tell me more.
He had applied over the telephone (after hearing about the website problems). He waited on hold for half an hour before he spoke to someone, and it took an additional fifty minutes for him to apply.
He was happy to discover, at the end of the process, that his monthly payment would only be $162. “The government is picking up the other $303,” he said. “Thank goodness I don’t make enough money.”
Richard is currently uninsured, but he used to pay $455 every month for “OK” insurance that covered an expensive knee operation. He dropped that plan later, he says, because “it was eating into my savings. And I have a lot of expenses. I like to live the high life.”
Technically, his new policy is $10 more expensive, but with the new Medicaid subsidy he is receiving, he is paying about a third of the actual cost, with a $2,000 deductible.
He might have been happy to remain uninsured, but changed his mind after he was recently hospitalized with a kidney problem. He learned about Covered California from a mailing that explained it would be easy to apply. He was willing to spend the time it took to sign up by telephone, preferring to talk to a real person.
His sister just lost her health insurance due to Obamacare, he says. But for him, Obamacare has been a great deal.
“I’m a very skeptical guy about the government, whether state or federal,” he says. “But so far, the two big programs have worked out for me”–the other one being the federal mortgage adjustment program, which drastically reduced his monthly payments.
He’s a Democrat, but no big Obama fan. “The last president I really respected was Ronald Reagan,” he says. “I was crying through his funeral. I don’t know what got into me.”
In some ways, Richard is the sort of person whom Obamacare is meant to help: a hard-working man in his late 50s who fell through the cracks of the old system.
In other ways, he is an example of what Obamacare’s critics fear: that otherwise independent people will become dependent on the state while living the “high life,” and that those who are already sick will be attracted to the exchanges while the young and healthy stay away.
Yes, there are some winners. The program is a “massive transfer of wealth from the young to the old,” says Avik Roy of Forbes. Theoretically, it also helps residents of the handful of states where insurance premiums are expected to drop–mostly northeastern states that already have highly regulated health insurance markets. And in many states it helps working people who were once earning too much income to qualify for Medicaid.
Proponents of Obamacare also point to the moral benefit of knowing that Americans are finally providing for the uninsured (assuming they can sign up for the program in time–not a likely prospect now).
But there is also a moral cost: the sacrifice of individual liberty and responsibility. That, plus millions of canceled insurance policies, the shift to part-time jobs, the loss of faith in a government that has broken its promises.
Most of those costs were unnecessary.
It would have been simpler to write a check to Richard for $303 per month in insurance subsidies rather than meddling with everyone else’s health insurance. And, in fact, that is what Republicans proposed in 2008, when John McCain suggested a $5000 per year, per household refundable tax credit to buy insurance. That would have lowered Richard’s net insurance costs to $50 per month.
Yes, Obamacare works for Richard, and for many others in his situation. It is cheaper for society that he pay $162 per month towards his health insurance, rather than nothing. And while Obamacare has taken away his incentive to earn more, it is not clear, at this stage in his career, that Richard has much bigger plans. In a few years he will qualify for Medicare anyway. So why not live the “high life” after all, while it is being subsidized?
Beyond the dollars and cents, that is what Obamacare is doing to the United States: turning proudly self-reliant people into the passive spendthrifts of government largesse.
When Democrats say that Republicans’ real fear is not that Obamacare won’t work, but that it will, they are partly correct.
A society whose main idea of freedom is the “high life” is not the country our forebears gave their lives to defend. It is not really America at all.