Placebo Policies

Robert ReichRobert Reich is angry at fellow Democrats for—What else?!—wimping out on healthcare standards. I’m right with him. In fact, I’ve spent most of the day being angry about the whole Obamacare situation. Everywhere I look, pundits are second guessing whether the website will really be up and running properly by the end of the month. Can there possible be any more useless speculation? We should just be letting the people do their work. But of course, we’re not, and it is a lot worse than just pundits.

Today, Darrell Issa has Henry Chao, the chief project officer for Healthcare.gov, testifying. And what is Issa concerned about? That a completely marginal feature of the website has been delayed for political reasons. This feature, called “anonymous shopper,” allows people to shop for coverage without setting up an account. It would be a nice feature, but regardless, it isn’t a linchpin of the system. According to Chao (who ought to know), there was nothing political about the decision; it was just that the system failed tests. Regardless, is the middle of a war the right time for yet another Darrell Issa political witch hunt?

None of this matters to me. I’m going to wait another two weeks to really worry about it. Now is about the time that we should start seeing notable improvements in the website if things are on track. “No change” up to this point really means anything. I understand why conservatives would be talking incessantly about these problems. What I don’t understand is all the hysteria from liberals.

The other, more worrying aspect of the Obamacare situation is the obsessive concern over Obama’s claim that people would be able to keep their health insurance if they liked it. Well, for a small percentage of people, this is not going to be true. And guess what? That’s the good thing! Most of these people have terrible insurance that is either (1) a policy that covers next to nothing or (2) a policy that would have been canceled as soon it started to be used. The only reason these people were happy with the policies was that they never needed to use them. Let’s just call these things what they are: placebo policies.

This brings us to Robert Reich who is focused on what Democratic Party politicians are doing, Having the Backbone to Set Minimum Standards for Health Insurance. As usual, with the smallest raindrops in the political world, large parts of the Democratic Party turn tail and run. Now there are two camps that are trying to push some kind of legislation that would allow people to keep their old placebo policies. This is the wrong way to deal with the problem.

But how big is this problem, anyway? I’m not clear on it because every time there is some news report about “sticker shock,” it turns out that the person didn’t know what they were talking about and that they’ll get a really good deal through the exchanges. To me, this is just modified Shirley Sherrod. The media are going to town on these stories and the Republicans are demagoguing them, so the Democrats just give up. Reich explains it perfectly:

But spineless Democrats (including my old boss Bill Clinton) are caving in to the Republican-fueled outrage that the President “misled” Americans into thinking they could keep their old lousy policies—and are now urging the White House to forget the new standards and let people keep what they had before…

Can we please get a grip? Whenever industry standards are lifted—a higher minimum wage, safer workplaces, non-toxic foods and drugs, safer cars—people no longer have the “freedom” to contract for the sub-standard goods and services.

But that freedom is usually a mirage because big businesses have most of the power and average people don’t have much of a choice. This has been especially the case with health insurance, which is why minimum standards here are essential.

That’s right. Obamacare is designed to fix a number of problems. One of them is the hidden costs associated with the uninsured, which we pay for now even though we don’t get a direct bill. People with placebo policies are effectively uninsured. And this problem is one that was bound to come up when we decided to go with the Republican “free market” leave-no-insurance-company-behind approach to healthcare reform. But there are solutions to this issue that will help those who “like” their placebo policies—for example, special temporary subsidies for those few affected to get real policies. But gutting health insurance standards is an awful idea for the individuals with these useless plans and for the nation as a whole.

Democrats and liberals of the nation: it is time to join the Vertebrate subphylum!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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