Stop making things worse
Anger at insurers is hurting the insured
Reviling Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton or James Comey is one thing. Disrupting health insurance markets that serve people who lead regular lives is another.
President Donald Trump rose to power by picking on two types of people: those his own size or vulnerable minorities. In the first case, he took on powerful people who personified the “establishment.” That remained true after he became president and fought with Congress. Now he is trying to take on the insurance industry. Between him and that last target, though, are a lot of innocent people.
The administration says it wants to end “bailouts” of insurance companies. There are none. The closest thing resembling a “bailout” is government payment of subsidies. Those subsidies cover the costs of providing insurance to low-income customers, as required by law. If those payments stop, the legal requirement does not. Therefore, insurers will simply raise prices on others to cover their losses or drop out of costly markets.
In Idaho, for instance, an average of 38 percent in rate increases is requested by the state’s six Obamacare insurers. That state’s insurance director, a long-time Republican, pointed directly at the Trump administration’s refusal to commit to keeping up the subsidies as the biggest factor driving those requests. The uncertainty alone accounts for at least half the requested increases, the director said in a statement Tuesday.
Trump, by the way, carried Idaho with 59.2 percent. It is one of our most Republican states. Lyndon B. Johnson just managed to edge out Barry Goldwater in 1964, the last time a Democrat for president carried Idaho.
Trump’s threats spring from frustration at GOP failure to pass a health care bill. Suppose the administration’s threats to end government payments to insurers are just bluffs intended to prod things along. They will not work, and the political price would be too high even if they could. The insurance industry does not bluff or ignore things. You can bet that whatever degree of uncertainty the White House creates will be reflected in 2018 health insurance rates. All threats do is cause risk calculators to click some more. With insurance, the house always wins. Rates will not go down once this self-inflicted “crisis” is over.
Assessing risk and making sure the industry does not get stuck with the costs is not just what insurance companies do. That is what the insurance industry is. Risk assessment is its core and being. Red-faced presidential anger is just another risk to figure in.
If this goes on, insurance costs will keep going up and people not named Bush, Clinton or Comey will lose their insurance. Guess who would get the blame. It will be the man who changed the rules in the middle of the game out of selfevident frustration at losing.
The idea Democrats will get blamed because they did not help the GOP dismantle Obamacare is irrational. That would be like blaming little pigs for not building houses of straw or sticks. It is silly to talk about pulling the rug out from under insurance markets, then holding up the rug in one hand while pointing to the Democrats with the other, waving a finger and yelling “See? It’s their fault.”
Speaking of yelling, an argument can be made that yelling at Republican congressmen by groups like Indivisible does not change dyedin-the-wool Republican minds. But here is one thing shouting definitely does: Any Democrat who ever thought about giving ground on health care looks at those marches, protests and crowds and forgets that idea.
Readers of my past stuff know I am extremely harsh to the Republican majority in Congress, which ran on repealing Obamacare through four elections. But the president won his election by saying the system is broken. An outsider was elected president precisely because his voters wanted drastic change. Therefore, it is spectacularly unfair for the president to leave the party’s major legislative goal to an archetypal insider, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and do as little as Trump did to push it past the goal line. Then, when that failed, the president compounded the consequences by punishing people who could only watch.
You have to break eggs to make omelets, the saying goes. Yes, but you don’t have to drop the eggs on the floor to break them.
President Trump was sent to Washington to fix a broken system, not complain more loudly about how broken it is. Voters can do that themselves. He certainly was not sent to make things worse.