Jonathan Chait is back, which is good news because I still look forward to reading him every day. And his first article of the new year is a good one, Harvard, Obamacare, and the Conservative Information Bubble. What it is about is the conservatives’ newest claim that Obamacare is failing. This time it refers to a Robert Pear article in The New York Times, Harvard Ideas on Health Care Hit Home, Hard. I believe the original title was, “Healthcare fixes backed by Harvard’s experts now roil its faculty.” Apparently, they decided that maybe that was too provocative a title.
The main “fix” that is roiling the Harvard faculty is the idea that healthcare consumers should have “skin in the game.” This means higher co-pays and deductibles. It is thought that if people have to pay $25 to see the doctor, they will only go to the doctor when they really need to. I’ve always found this a questionable contention because (1) most people avoid going to the doctor just because it is time consuming and painful; and (2) this is throwing a lot of pressure on the consumer to know when is the “right” time to go to the doctor. But maybe it works.
In the past, Harvard has provided 100% coverage of faculty. (I’m sure that Harvard is like most colleges in using a lot of adjunct faculty who are paid almost nothing and given no benefits — but that’s another issue.) Now the college is paying only 90% and the faculty are not pleased. Conservatives have pounced. Chait quoted Red State, “One imagines how all these pampered academics would feel if they were forced to use a silver (70% covered) Obamacare plan.” I love that: “pampered academics”; these intellectual elites who fly coach to conferences are so pampered but the financial elites in their private jets and the gated mansions are not pampered. Regardless, it is clearly a reduction in compensation, even if a fairly minor one.
But as Chait noted, conservatives have no cause to feel good about this development. This idea of having “skin in the game” is their own conservative idea. In fact, about the only healthcare reform idea that conservatives have that is not totally ridiculous is their health savings accounts. This is the idea that people put tax-free money in a savings account that they use for medical expenses. This goes along with some catastrophic insurance policy — with maybe a $10,000 (Or more!) deductible. Since the money in the savings account is yours if you don’t use it, you have a real incentive to chew Advil all year long and not have the doctor look at that pain in your lower right abdomen. Incentives!
That’s all that is going on at Harvard. The only thing that conservatives should complain about is that the school is paying too much of the faculty’s healthcare costs. Of course, this is just the conservative way. Anything that people don’t like in Obamacare proves that it is hopeless and must be repealed. And this is even true when what people don’t like is their conservative policy idea, “You hate having to pay 30% of your healthcare costs, but you are going to love it when you have to pay 70%!”
It is important to remember where conservatives are in terms of knowledge about Obamacare. The only information that they get is negative. This is why they truly believe that the law is on the verge of collapse. It is very much like conservatives in the 2012 election where they were just sure that they were going to win. Contrast that with liberals during the 2014 election who might have grasped on to any hopeful bit of evidence, but who were completely prepared for the slaughter that came last November.
There are lots of things to not like about Obamacare. Steven Brill is out with a new book that highlights many of the problems, America’s Bitter Pill. But those problems are the conservative aspects of the law. And it is embarrassing for conservatives to throw rocks at the law while showing a complete lack of knowledge about their own “plans.”