The ObamaCare Bomb: Plan 9 from Collectivist Space

Plan 9 from Outer Space Valiant Pictures
Valient Pictures

The news that insurance giant Aetna was canceling future ObamaCare expansion plans and also pulling out of most ObamaCare markets has fused the Affordable Care Act bomb for one final, cataclysmic detonation.

The whole rotten scheme is falling apart, and it’s costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. We might as well get a few laughs out of its demise.

ObamaCare resembles the great bombs of movie history in many ways, beginning with the fact that most people working on a bad movie think they’re working on a good movie. A few other striking parallels:

“Cleopatra” financing. For many years, the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor version of “Cleopatra” was regarded as the ultimate example of how studio hubris and runaway spending can turn a promising film into a financial disaster. Everything about “Cleopatra” was too big; it even ruined industries tied to Hollywood as it rumbled past. However, it eventually did make money, many years after its initial release, which is more than we can say of ObamaCare.

The scale of taxpayer money squandered on the failed Affordable Care Act is staggering, and should make every taxpayer’s blood boil with rage, like Richard Burton does in every Cleopatra scene where he was sober. Obamacare is on track to cost over $1.2 trillion during its first ten years — in the very unlikely event it actually survives ten years, in anything resembling its current form. Even that cost figure is misleading, because real costs are magically offset by “income” siphoned away from U.S. citizens by the biggest middle-class tax increase of the modern era, the individual mandate.

Also, ObamaCare’s unsustainable finances depend upon soaking young and healthy people with sky-high premiums for poor-quality insurance plans, to finance benefits for others. Like all wealth transfers, it’s both unfair and inefficient. It’s a lot worse than paying a fortune for popcorn and soda when you sit down to watch a lousy movie.

“Battlefield Earth” audience appeal. All that money has been lavished on a system virtually no one will participate in voluntarily. Of course, despite Barack Obama’s infamous lies to the contrary – “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan, nobody will take it away from you, period” – ObamaCare is not voluntary. We are marched into service at gunpoint, with big fines for Americans who commit the previously unknown “crime” of refusing to purchase a product from the President’s business partners.  

And yet, people are choosing to pay the fine, in numbers far beyond anything the central planners who devised the Affordable Care Act predicted! As Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini put it, “Providing affordable, high-quality healthcare options to consumers is not possible without a balanced risk pool. Fifty-five percent of our individual on-exchange membership is new in 2016, and in the second quarter we saw individuals in need of high-cost care represent an even larger share of our on-exchange population.”

That’s why insurance companies like Aetna are losing hundreds of millions of dollars, and bailing out of the system. It’s like the audience for John Travolta’s legendary sci(entology)-fi bomb “Battlefield Earth” trying to buy exit tickets to get out of the theater.

“Fantastic Four” politics. The utterly dreadful 2015 attempt at rebooting Fantastic Four is widely viewed as a prime example of studio politics trashing the creative process. ObamaCare apologists are currently whining that Aetna jumped out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace in retaliation for the Justice Department blocking its attempt to merge with Humana.

Aetna CEO Bertolini claimed mergers were necessary for survival, because big companies could only live in the barren wasteland of ObamaCare by getting bigger, giving them greater economies of scale, and an improved ability to absorb losses from their most unprofitable units. This, of course, was the exact opposite of the vibrant competition Americans were promised by Obama and his brain trust, just like “Fantastic Four” was the exact opposite of what everyone wants to see in a superhero movie.

“Heaven’s Gate” collateral damage. Director Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate” was the paramount example of a movie bomb for decades, a synonym for spectacular failure known to millions who would never watch a single frame of the film. “Heaven’s Gate” bombed so badly that it took the studio with it. (Thanks to modern film technology and advanced accounting techniques, Hollywood is now capable of producing much less profitable movies on a regular basis, without the studios declaring bankruptcy.)

ObamaCare is doing permanent damage to the insurance business. The American people were basically drafted into a war against one of their own great industries, and it’s costing more money than actual shooting wars against hostile nations.

“The exchanges do not seem to be stabilizing; instead, they seem to be growing more unstable over time, particularly outside large urban areas where there are enough providers and slack capacity in the health-care system to provide some check on the problems that have plagued insurers elsewhere,” Megan McArdle warned after Aetna’s announcement at Bloomberg View.

This is a process that will accelerate, as the situation in those rural areas gets worse and worse. (As McArdle noted, there’s a county in Arizona that currently has zero providers in the ACA marketplace, meaning residents have a theoretical “right” to buy insurance, but no one is willing to sell it to them. Some other marketplaces have only one remaining provider, putting customers at the mercy of an effective monopoly… and the monopolist is grouchy about all the money it’s been losing.)

McArdle suggests that if the exchanges don’t get a magical infusion of young healthy people begging insurance companies to take their money right now, insurers will “demand benefits from the government to make it worth their while to stay.” Such regulatory favoritism is time-consuming to construct, fantastically expensive to administer, prone to legal challenges, and above all guaranteed to freeze new competition out of the regulated marketplace. Only big players who can rattle Big Government’s cage will be able to get in the game.

Not that there will be much of a game to play, given that 16 of the 23 co-ops created by ObamaCare have already collapsed.

Of course, anyone who could see past Obama’s dishonest rhetoric in 2010 knew the true purpose of his health care “reform” was to inflict precisely this kind of damage — destroying the private insurance market so thoroughly that a beaten, frightened American public can be stampeded into single-payer socialized medicine.

“Plan 9 From Outer Space” rules. Ed Wood’s magnificently awful “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is an incomprehensible mess, a movie whose least baffling element was the fact that its star, Bela Lugosi, died before filming began. ObamaCare is what would happen if Ed Wood directed a trillion-dollar government program.

Certainly the legendary Z-movie director couldn’t have done a worse job building a website than Barack Obama and then-HHS director Kathleen Sebelius did, a disaster that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to fix. The website eventually worked, but the rules of the Affordable Care Act are still a head-spinning mess. People are terrified of making a mistake, especially with the IRS standing by to enforce that individual mandate.

Of course, confusion is something ObamaCare relies on to survive. Its defenders brag that 85 percent of customers receive subsidies to defray sky-high premiums… as if it’s a good thing that even prosperous hard-working families can no longer afford health care without government subsidies. Big Insurance has been getting lots of taxpayer cheddar, too… and some of the subsidy programs are about to end, which is one of the reasons providers are fleeing from the system as 2017 approaches.

“Experts suggested several ways to lure healthier people into the exchanges, including increasing the penalties for not having coverage and boosting the subsidy levels to make it less expensive to obtain insurance,” CNN reports. Don’t those sound like lovely alternatives? Let’s “fix” ObamaCare by taxing you into the poorhouse, if you refuse to buy a policy! Or maybe we can raid taxpayers for more cash to keep the system squeaking along for a few more years!

The next regulatory fix will cause more unexpected problems, leading to another regulatory fix… on and on, forever, like a crappy movie script rewritten dozens of times. It’s already tough for any average consumer to understand the rules, and the rules before the Affordable Care Act weren’t exactly a model of simplicity.

The notion of true competition becomes a mockery when consumers don’t understand the goods for sale. We should cancel the ObamaCare horror movie before another gang of bright-eyed socialists force us to pay for tickets to a rerun we never wanted to see in the first place.


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