December 9, 2014

Gruber Should Have Channeled Dan Rather

I confess,  I've always been a bit of a news junkie, which I blame on my late father. We not only had a thing about our newspaper, but also about the network news.

We used to watch it together when I lived at home, and later when I was out on my own, I'd get phone calls during the broadcast or messages on my machine when a reporter said something particularly, well, what we called noteworthy.We did a whole lot of Monday morning quarterbacking too.

And that's why, while I don't remember exactly what they were talking about, I've never forgotten the exchange between President Nixon and CBS News reporter Dan Rather all those years ago. You know the one, right? Here's how it went, after Rather introduced himself  to a round of cheering and catcalling from the audience.
Nixon: Are you running for something?  Rather: No sir, Mr. President.  Are you?
Fast forward from March of 1974, when Nixon was running from something, obviously, to today.  We had the 'glib' MIT economist Jonathan Gruber testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Under Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Committee has been a source of wonderful witch hunts and wasted time, and today was no exception.

Gruber was involved in the economic analysis behind the Affordable Care Act. Meaning, with his experience (including working on Romneycare in Massachusetts, on which the ACA was based)  and his software program, he was tapped to help everyone understand the economics of the law. And he did that.

He also (dumbly) said some things while talking about the ACA, including that it included a tax on people who did not purchase insurance; that health care for the old and the sick would be paid primarily by the young and the healthy, and that people would lose their health care plans. He was transparent, in a time and a town that practically defines opaque.

Let's talk first about the tax.  That there would be a tax, or a fee, or a charge, or a blood-sucking penalty on people who did not get insurance was not a surprise. We know that, of course, because we are adults and, for those who were unsure, because the US Supreme Court told us it was a tax, even though the bill called it a mandate.

Why was it called a mandate? Because politicians are loathe to admit that they vote for new taxes, or increases to existing taxes.  Hell, Republicans actually are not allowed to vote for a tax. You can thank Grover Norquist for that; he has them all by the you-know-whats because of the pledge of allegiance they sign to him, instead of to us.

Now, let's talk about young/healthy vs old/sick part. Is there anyone who has any kind of insurance (other than life insurance) who does not understand that premiums are paid with the hope that the coverage will never be used?  Is there anyone who has insurance who does not understand that the premiums they pay are used to pay claims filed by other people?  

That's right. The premiums you pay are being used by other people who are filing claims, and they're being held in reserve to pay claims that haven't yet been filed. Yours, and everyone else's. Young people and old, sick people and healthy, men and women, doctors and cleaning ladies, female rocket scientists and male paper pushers. For all different kinds of insurance, not just health insurance. That's the business model, and it shouldn't be a surprise. 
  
Now, to point number three: that people would lose their coverage. Gruber is an economist not a politician, and he's a good 'get' at a conference, apparently, based on his self-described mean, insulting, disparaging comments. Gruber was at least honest in that he recognized, based on the economics of the ACA, that it would be almost too enticing for corporations to want to keep the insurance they had before the ACA, if there was any chance at all that they could achieve shareholder value, bottom line improvements, or just money-grubbing glee by cutting benefits. 

And corporations did make changes, and they did cut people's hours, and they did drop coverage for spouses, and all of those other things which we're painfully aware of today. 

Did I miss it? I have yet to read anything in the more than four years since the passage of the ACA that states that business must cut hours, that they must drop spousal coverage, that they must change carriers or plans, and that they simply must not continue on the path they were on before March 2010 when the ACA provisions began. And I can assure you, if those requirements are in the law, the Republicans would have been shouting them from the rooftops; alas, all they've done is vote some 50-odd times (unsuccessfully) to repeal it.

One of the lasting legacies of the ACA will certainly be that the Obama Administration did a horrible job educating people on the ACA, managing the message, and so on; they let government contractors do such an awful job on the Healthcare.gov website for the first open enrollment that, on a cynical day, I'm almost convinced there was some kind of quid pro quo with the Republicans to screw it up for Obama in return for getting the contract for fixing it later after Obama is out of office.

Gruber didn't help with his comments about the bill, how it was passed, what it contains, and what he surmised to be true about the implications based on his expertise as an economist. He was arrogant, and tried to make himself seem really important, and now he actually is really important. But you know what Gruber said that was really the reason he was before Issa's Committee?

He said it was the 'stupidity of American voter' that allowed the ACA to be passed. And we know nothing gets Congress riled up like an attack on the stupidity of the American people. We are, after all, the ones who elected these people, so insulting us like that, well, you might as well be pointing fingers at them. 

And so it was the 'stupidity' comment that led to this question from Issa, with all of his ire screwed up in his furrowed brow:
Issa: Mr. Gruber, are you stupid?  Gruber: I don't think so, no.  
And....opportunity lost. How I would have loved it if he had Rather'd at that exact moment:
Mr. Gruber, are you stupid?  No, sir, Mr. Issa.  Are you?