Tag Archives: Jonathan Cohn

Obamacare’s “Wage Growth” Hoax

Families across the country are facing escalating out-of-pocket health care costs and, as a result, less disposable income, thanks to Obamacare’s Cadillac Tax. A major funding mechanism for the law, the 40 percent excise tax forces employers to cut back on health benefits, leaving workers increasingly subject to higher deductibles and copayments.

(Note: See here, here, and here for more details on the Cadillac Tax.)

The drive-by media originally maintained the Cadillac Tax was merely a justified penalty on unusually expensive gold-plated plans — such as those owned by Goldman-Sachs executives — that theoretically encourage over-utilization of medical care. 

However, we now know that the tax was designed to eventually target every employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) plan. We’re talking about 158 million Americans.

Since employers have already begun reducing the generosity of their plans to prepare for the tax’s 2018 implementation, even the drive-by media has had to pay attention to a flurry of reports — from sources like Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, the Institute for Policy Innovation, The Wall Street Journal, and more — on soaring employee cost-sharing.

Completely blindsided by these revelations, Progressives are now referring to copayment and deductible victims as “underinsured” and calling for action, including government requirements that insurers lower deductibles. Some are even demanding a repeal of the Cadillac Tax.

This situation shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. This is, as they say, a feature, not a bug, of the law; the Cadillac Tax was always intended to discourage patients from consuming health care. This is Obamacare’s promised “cost control.”

Law professor (and big-time Cadillac Tax fan) Edward Zelinsky explains:

 “Those who drafted the Cadillac Tax presumed that this tax…would be passed on to the employer and that the employer, in turn, would transfer this additional cost to its employees. In this indirect fashion, the Cadillac Tax should sensitize employees to the high costs of their health care coverage.”

Steve Wojcik of the National Business Group on Health described the policy’s intention:

“If employees have more cost sharing…then they’re more mindful when they access health care to choose a more efficient provider or say, ‘You know, I don’t need to go to the doctor every time I have a cough.’” 

America, you were conned from the very start. Not only did politicians lie — including Obama, dozens of times — in maintaining we could keep our plans, period, but so did Progressive reporters, who insisted that job-based coverage would be untouched.

Young Jonathan Cohn explained that for most of those with employer-sponsored insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, 

“Very little about their health plans are changing because of the law,
at least outwardly.”
 

America’s alleged wunderkind and intellectual giant Ezra Klein told us

“For most companies, the Affordable Care Act won’t bring much change at all.” 

And Ryan Lizza  assured readers that:

“About eighty percent of Americans are more or less left alone by the health-care act—largely people who have health insurance through their employers.” 

To prove that most people wouldn’t be affected by Obamacare, the liberals even paraded a pie chart, because apparently, in their view, “stupid” Americans understand colorful pictures more clearly than words. 

Even now, in the midst of this massive shift to higher employee cost-sharing, at least one of the law’s engineers is still perpetrating the fable that Obamacare isn’t affecting company plans.

Why did Obamacare’s designers aim to abuse American workers this way? Why was it necessary that Americans lose their policies to make Obamacare work?

To rake in more federal money, of course. The tax was devised to undercut the IRS provision that allows workers to receive tax-free company benefits. Policy experts estimate the government is robbed of $250 billion per year through this arrangement. 

And Progressive lawmakers rationalized that as employers scaled back or eliminated tax-free plans, they’d offset the loss with pay raises — in other words, taxable wages.

Here’s then-Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus explaining your raise.

Progressive politicians — backed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — predicted that the excise tax itself would raise relatively little, since companies would have no choice but to bring plan costs below the tax’s threshold. Obamacare crafter Jonathan Gruber is quoted to say, “I would be surprised if [the IRS] even collect[s].’” 

Most of the $201.4 billion revenue over 2013-2019 was predicted to result from payroll and income taxation of, yes, your raises.

Are you following? America’s gonna get a raise, any day now.  There’s even an econo-wonk term for this phenomenon — the “Wage Growth” effect.

So what about this “Wage Growth?” And who was the genius predicting with absolute certainty how companies would react to any savings on benefit costs?

Let’s flip the calendar back to 1993-94, when Hillary Clinton and Friends were busily at work trying to accomplish a very similar government takeover of America’s health care sector. 

“Wage Growth” was a major assumption in the Clinton bill: employers were expected to “shift to wages” any savings or costs they experienced due to the employer mandate to offer insurance. Those offering ESI for the first time were predicted to offset costs by reducing wages; companies that had previously offered ESI would receive government subsidies and were expected to pass along those savings to employees. 

The proponent of the Wage Growth hypothesis was 28-year-old Jonathan Gruber — yes, that Jonathan Gruber — who explained it to a health reform group in December 1993, and in testimony before a House committee five days later. When testifying before a Senate committee in July 1994, he again maintained the legitimacy of his unproven assumption.

Gruber was successful in persuading the 1994 CBO to accept the same premise: “employers facing an increase in their premiums would probably shift most of the added cost to their workers by reducing cash wages” and “employees of firms that would pay less would receive higher wages.” CBO’s evidence? Two research papers (one of which was still “forthcoming”) written by Jonathan Gruber.

Fifteen years later, in the midst of the Obamacare battle, Gruber was again peddling Wage Growth, offering professional papers and articles attempting to prove that Wage Growth would materialize with Obama’s reform package as well. Gruber, then more heavily involved with the CBO, influenced the body to repeatedly make the same Wage Growth assumption with Obamacare. (That’s for a subsequent post.)

For now, remember that it was critical that CBO find that Obamacare would pay for itself, as Obama promised and demanded a reform package that didn’t increase the deficit by a dime. Also remember that CBO analysis killed HillaryCare when it found the proposal increased the deficit by $74 billion

Obama and his Progressive Senate buddies couldn’t endure such an outcome. And government control of one-sixth of the economy couldn’t wait. 

So Jonathan Gruber rode in to save Obama by convincing just about everyone who mattered that the plan was deficit-friendly. Gruber then effectively went “on tour” to sell his claim to the American people, citing the support of the “independent CBO” — that’s right, the CBO that relied upon his Wage Growth hypothesis. 

Why is this important now, six years later? Because a wage increase has not occurred, despite ever-increasing benefit cuts, and was known to be improbable before Obamacare was passed. In a December 2009 Mercer employer survey, only 16 percent of respondents said they’d convert any cost savings into pay raises. In Towers Perrin’s September 2009 survey, a paltry nine percent said they’d increase wages.

It’s less than clear that even Jonathan Gruber believed in the Wage Growth hypothesis, since he appears to have solely relied on his analysis of wage and health insurance trends in the late-90s. And he doesn’t appear entirely convinced he hadn’t overlooked some confounding variables.

Gruber told The New York Times in January 2010, “‘There are many academic studies showing that when health costs rise, wages fall,’ he said. ‘In the mid- and late-1990s, when we got health costs under control, wages rose nicely.’ But he added that other factors could have also lifted wages during that period.” (More on that later, too.)

Additionally, liberal economist Lawrence Mishel, a critic of Gruber’s Wage Growth hypothesis, wrote on January 12, 2010, that ”Gruber clearly overreached with the argument about health care driving wage trends and has acknowledged that to me privately (yesterday).

Given this, one must wonder: would Obamacare have passed if not for the false narrative of deficit reduction? Even in Gruber’s 2011 comic book, he admits this about the law:

“There are risks.  But we have the benefit of
the independent projections of the CBO
…to suggest that this should work out.”
 

Now we’re discovering that those CBO projections were not very “independent” and instead were biased by Gruber’s assumptions.

Stay tuned. A subsequent post will explain how Jonathan Gruber manipulated economic research to advance his Wage Growth hoax.

Obamacare Scorecard: Takers Taking, Makers Breaking

When market research company J.D. Power released its 2015 Health Insurance Marketplace Exchange Shopper and Re-Enrollment (HIX) Study last Thursday, progressive health care reporters rushed to their laptops to declare Obama’s remarkable achievement:

Wowie!
Obamacare customers
are more satisfied
than people with job-based plans!

Vox’s Sarah Kliff offered her ‘splainer of the study, which was based on data collected from December 9, 2014, through February 24, 2015. 

People who had coverage through Obamacare had an average satisfaction score of 696 in 2014, thinking back to their last year of coverage. During that same year, people in mostly employer-based plans had a satisfaction rating of 679 — 17 points lower.

So did Sarah Ferris at The Hill:

People who bought coverage through ObamaCare are generally more satisfied than those with other types of insurance, according to a new national survey. ObamaCare customers rated their satisfaction over the last year as 696 out of 1,000, compared to the 679-point rating by customers with employer-based plans, according to a large survey by the consumer research firm J.D. Power.

And let’s not forget young Jonathan Cohn, who wrote a Huffington Post piece titled Obamacare News That Should Make Conservatives Happy, But Won’t:

J.D. Power uses a numerical index, from zero (low) to 1,000 (high), to measure consumer satisfaction. The figure for Affordable Care Act consumers was 696. To put that in perspective, the figure for people with employer-sponsored insurance — the source of coverage for most working-age Americans — was 670 [sic].

Here’s a question for Kliff, Ferris, and Cohn:

Are you really surprised that getting free stuff is popular?

…especially since J.D. Power found that “cost is the most influential attribute driving satisfaction among Marketplace plan members?”

Reporters of all stripes ought to know why Obamacare customers are happier than those in employer plans.

  • Obamacare enrollees enjoy the taxpayer’s helping hand with their premiums: in 2014, 90 percent received premium subsidies, and 69 percent paid $100 or less per month. 
  • Those in job-based plans are being increasingly hammered by rising out-of-pocket costs, as employers reduce benefits to avoid Obamacare’s Cadillac Tax. 

The New York Times provides one example of the excise tax’s impact on workers.

Starting this year, they have a combined deductible of $2,300, compared with just $500 before. And while she was eligible for a $1,400 hospital contribution to a savings account linked to the plan, the couple is now responsible for $6,600 a year in medical expenses, in contrast to a $3,000 limit on medical bills and $2,000 limit on pharmacy costs last year. She has had to drop out of school and take on additional jobs to pay for her husband’s medicine.

Remember: Obamacare enrollees don’t have to pay the Cadillac Tax; only those with company plans suffer that burden.

The real story in the J.D. Power release, though, is not found in comparisons of people with different types of coverage: it’s found when one examines the insurance satisfaction index over time.

In 2009, the year before Obamacare was passed, that number was 712 out of 1000. In 2010, it plummeted to 701. And now, for those with employer-provided insurance, that number is 679 — and 696 for those in the individual market.

In their reports, the research firm (strangely) never mentions the sampling errors and confidence intervals that would allow for meaningful year-by-year comparisons. However, they do say they consider a ten-point change to be significant.

So overall, Americans are vastly less satisfied with their health insurance since Obamacare started monkeying around with it. That’s the story.

But our progressive health care journos didn’t write about that tidbit, did they? 

Instead, they put a happy face on the numbers, gleefully announcing that those getting freebies are happy with their free provisions, and those subsidizing those freebies are much less so. 

Duh. They must think their readers were educated at the Jonathan Gruber School of Stupid.

[Sigh] It’s all fun and games until we “run out of other people’s money.”

Citizen Journalist v. Citizen Cohn: Obamacare Is All About Redistribution

This morning Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn let the cat out of the bag, admitting that Obamacare was a redistribution scheme.

Touché, Mr. Weinstein.

Do you remember anyone — journalist or politician — divulging that information before the law was passed? How about when Obama was running for reelection? Of course not. The policy would have been as unpopular as the Cadillac Tax is now becoming.

It’s unclear when Jonathan Cohn learned Obamacare was a redistribution tool, but he admits he was pretty cozy with the Obamacare architects during the law’s creation, especially with Jonathan Gruber.

And remember when Jonathan Gruber told his guests that Obamacare was written in a “tortured way” so as to deceive voters, especially as regards its redistributive mechanisms? 

In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money? — it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.

Where was the American press on this nugget? Oh, that’s right. They weren’t interested in doing any investigative journalism on the law. That discovery was left to a financial advisor in Philly, an ordinary American who tried for well over a year to get the incurious press’ attention.

But Obamacare doesn’t only redistribute wealth. It also redistributes health.

In his January, 2015, Forbes piece titled “Is Obamacare Squeezing The Middle Class?” John Goodman explains:

Poor, long-uninsured patients are getting Medicaid through Obamacare and finally going to the doctor’s office for care. But middle-class patients are increasingly staying away…Gallup polling shows what has been happening over time: Even though more people are insured today than in quite some time, more people are putting off medical treatment because of cost than has been the case in the past eight years.”

Even The Los Angeles Times had to agree:

[T]he law hasn’t provided much relief to American workers either, according to a new study of employer-provided health benefits. Workers continue to be squeezed by rising insurance costs, eroding benefits and stagnant wages, the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found…”Workers are paying more but getting less protective benefits,” the report’s authors noted. 

Last December, The New York Timessurvey showed the impact of health care expenses on Americans, concluding that:

Affording medical care is more of a hardship.
Out-of-pocket expenses have gone up.

It’s an axiom of economics (and common sense): when you increase the costs of a commodity, in this case health care, you reduce demand for it. And so middle-class Americans, hammered by rising expenses, are avoiding care, even if that doesn’t bode well for their long-term physical and emotional health.

This will be a story that plays out over coming years.

But the concepts of health and wealth redistribution should have been put before the American public, by lawmakers and journalists like Jonathan Cohn, before the law was passed — and then cemented by Obama’s reelection.

It’s likely, however, that they thought we were too stupid to understand how amazingly awesome Obamacare would be for us. Progressive elitists always think they know what’s best for the unwashed masses, and if they have to lie to get their policies through, they will. To Obama and his ilk, the ends always justify the means.