“Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” — Otto von Bismarck
Seems like just yesterday that I wrote about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Then just a few days later several union leaders fired off a letter complaining about the unintended consequences of ObamaCare, “The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are causing nightmare scenarios.”
Seriously, what did they expect from a 2000-page bill that nobody had time to read before they voted on it? If there is one thing that everybody should have learned about gigantic bills is that there will certainly be unintended consequences. The politicians ought to take time to read the bills and allow the public to read them, and they should allow extensive time for thorough debate. Will they learn? No.
But back to ObamaCare. July 2013 should go down as the beginning of the end – or perhaps the end of the beginning – of this terrible act. Right now, some reader of this column is disagreeing, thinking that “universal health care is not terrible; it’s a great idea.”
There is a huge difference between a good idea and a good bill. Even if we were to agree that the idea was good, the bill was terribly written. By now, all but the true believers must realize that its implementation is proving next to impossible and the unintended consequences are destroying jobs. As the Wall Street Journal opines, “The law’s implementation is turning into a fiasco for the ages.”
The unraveling began on April Fools’ Day. The government announced that a key part of the law, the Small-business Health Options Program (SHOP), would be delayed a year. Even though the law had passed a full three years earlier, the government had not written final rules until the previous month. The Chamber of Commerce announced that without SHOP the federal exchanges “will be of little or no value to employers, or by extension, their employees.”
Later in April, Sen. Max Baucus, chief author of the bill, said the law’s implementation would be a “train wreck.” A Democratic colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, described the massive act as “beyond comprehension.” The government’s chief technical officer for the insurance exchanges remarked, “I’m pretty nervous . . . Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”
Also in April, a union leader called for the repeal of ObamaCare, saying that “in the rush to achieve its passage, many of the act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer-sponsored coverage could keep it.” (There’s that phrase again – unintended consequences.)
In May, a separate group of union leaders grew “frustrated and angry about what they say are unexpected consequences of the new law – problems that they say could jeopardize the health benefits offered to millions of their members.”
When the government wants to hide bad news, it usually issues a press release just before a weekend or holiday, hoping it will get little attention. Thus it was when the administration finally had to acknowledge that ObamaCare was a shambles. The Treasury Department announced at 6 pm on July 2 that they were delaying the employer mandate for one year, until January 2015, conveniently after the November 2014 elections. Can anyone seriously doubt that politics was a major reason for his decision to delay the mandate? Clearly, Obama and his political advisors know that ObamaCare is more and more unpopular with voters.
Which brings us back to the union leaders at the start of this missive. Shortly after the Treasury’s announcement, the leaders warned that ObamaCare would “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.” One of the unintended consequences of the law is a perverse incentive for businesses to convert full-time employees to part-time. “The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.”
In another instance of hiding bad news, the government buried in the Federal Register an acknowledgment that without the employer mandate in place, it had no mechanism to verify an individual’s eligibility for subsidies. It would rely on the “Honor System”. And without employers reporting the insurance status of employees, the individual mandate is not enforceable.
For consumers that’s not such bad news. By a 2-1 margin, voters want the individual mandate to be delayed one year. Even Democrats (by a 43%-35% margin) favor a delay. Majorities of Republicans (84%) and independents (57%) favor eliminating the mandate completely. The only voter group still strongly supporting ObamaCare is Liberal Democrats. Surprisingly, even “Moderate Democrats are quitting on Obamacare” (Washington Post-ABC News poll).
So, after three months of bad reports from his own administration, from allies in Congress, and allies in the labor unions, President Obama felt it necessary to defend his law. It is hard to find a single major media outlet praising his speech – the Associated Press labeled it “another round of exaggeration”.
The point of this essay is not to highlight all that is wrong with ObamaCare – that would take many more volumes. It is to emphasize that the Law of Unintended Consequences can never be repealed. Politicians who ignore that law do so at our peril.