All the nuance of a brick to the face

I don’t particularly take kindly to being lied about.

But that is exactly what happened this morning, when you may or may not have been greeted to a blog post titled, “Two top Maine conservatives say Obamacare is working. Have you signed up yet?” by Amy Fried.

As the title suggests, the post is little more than hollow shilling for Obamacare exchange plans, and reads like a paid marketing post.  The kind you might find on a spam blog pushing acai berry pills, or the type of advertisement you might see on television at three in the morning.

Alas, it was intended to be serious, and you can probably guess who one of the conservatives she cited was.  Yup, me.

Imagine my shock when I learned that I secretly loved Obamacare, and had admitted that it was working.

Wait, what?

Fried cribs from a column I wrote last week, which attempted to make a nuanced and intelligent point about the politics of an Obamacare repeal.  In that column I made three points:

  • The Obamacare repeal vote held last week was more or less a pointless show-vote that had a 0% chance of succeeding in repealing the ACA.  Not with Obama in the White House.
  • Given the fact that Obamacare’s destructive tentacles have begun to spread throughout the American economy and healthcare industry, it is no longer as simple as merely repealing Obamacare, a more comprehensive strategy to destroy it has to be undertaken.
  • Even if it was repealed, the system we had before it was itself a disaster, and did not even begin to resemble a free market system.  Returning to it isn’t a very good option.

Related to that second point, I attempted to do something that no one who ever talks about politics or public policy should ever do anymore: actually talk about it with nuance and detail.

Fried cherry picked that nuance with all the subtlety of a brick to the face, and showed you a partial quote from my column, and even added bold typeface to create some flair:

[R]oughly 63,000 Mainers have signed up for the Obamacare exchange plans. People are getting subsidies. People have chosen plans, spent money, and gotten themselves and their families coverage.

Reverting the law to its previous, non-Obamacare state would . . . negatively impact tens of thousands of Mainers — and millions of Americans — who have been purchasing plans on the exchange. [source]

Good Lord, sure sounds like I think Obamacare is a good thing and it is working.  Get your pitchforks and start spreading the word about my apostasy.

Unfortunately, any time you attempt to have a rational, intelligent conversation about a topic as complex as healthcare reform, as I did, you open yourself up to exactly this kind of nonsense.

But make no mistake, Amy Fried lied to you, and you should be pretty angry about it.  I know I am.

So what was I actually saying?  Let me be pretty clear here so there can’t be any misunderstanding.

I am saying that Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster, but because of the nefarious design of the law, and the perverse extension of government control over so much of the healthcare industry, and the resulting effect it has had on the American consumer, businesses and insurers, it is no longer as simple as simply “repealing it.”

Why?  Let me cite myself, and all the text Fried did not quote to you, for some context:

The process of implementing the ACA has taken five years now. It has cost corporations, insurers, and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars collectively, to comply with the new law.

At the same time, roughly 63,000 Mainers have signed up for the Obamacare exchange plans. People are getting subsidies. People have chosen plans, spent money, and gotten themselves and their families coverage.

Reverting the law to its previous, non-Obamacare state would not be as simple as switching off a light switch. It would compound the regulatory and compliance costs for businesses and require them to jump through all of these hoops again, costing millions.

On top of that, it would negatively impact tens of thousands of Mainers — and millions of Americans — who have been purchasing plans on the exchange. Whatever you believe about the quality and cost of the exchange plans, they exist, and some people are buying them. To destroy the system without a transition plan would do exactly what we as conservative critics just attacked the president for doing: canceling health care plans and harming patients and consumers.

Obamacare was designed to create this very problem. It is so complex that if you simply repealed the law, everything wouldn’t simply “go back to the way it was before.” It is the knot in a necklace that you simply can’t untie without great effort.

Let me break all that down more simply for you.

Obamacare is a disaster.  It has lead to cancelled plans, and has forced people into exchange plans as a result.  It has threatened them with fines and penalties for not purchasing insurance.  It has bullied and funneled people into their system, which was always the criticism of the plan from the right.

Now people finally have settled into their new normal, and millions are on exchange plans.  A straight repeal would kill the exchange and leave these people basically hanging.  And it isn’t their fault.  They never wanted any part of this nonsense, they simply wanted to get themselves and their families insurance coverage.

The exchange should die. But to do it and turn it off like a light switch would have a real impact on real people – millions of them – and no matter how much we loathe the Obamacare system, we have to remember that.

Fried wants you to believe my saying that means that I believe, or that I said that “Obamacare is working”, when she knows better.

A consumer who had his plan cancelled and saw his rates skyrocket, and was forced into the government exchange does not represent a success story for Obamacare.  The mere presence of human beings on the exchange does not make them successful.  Destroying other options, making the exchange their only rational choice, and then forcing them into it isn’t a victory for consumer choice and quality of healthcare.

Regardless, beyond the human element of good people who are caught in the middle of a political war of attrition, there is the cost of compliance, and the regulatory burdens this law has created for businesses and insurers.

Businesses spent hundreds of millions of dollars transitioning to the new system, and it has taken years.  Whether the new system is good, or bad (it is bad, just so we are clear), it took them an incredible amount of time and money to make the transition and even understand what was happening.

To then simply pull the rug out from under them, and force them into hundreds of millions of dollars MORE in compliance costs, and ask them to essentially make it happen overnight is incredibly irresponsible, and simply impossible in the real world.

So faced with a reality today, where millions of consumers – and more than 60,000 in Maine – are unwitting victims to the Obamacare leviathan, and businesses and insurers have had an avalanche of compliance costs shoveled on them, it simply isn’t as easy as repealing the law, full stop, end of action.

Which is why I advocated a serious approach from Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Bruce Poliquin, that tackled repeal with a reasonable transition away from the Obamacare mess, and push for a reform that would create a real free market system for healthcare in the United States.

We haven’t had that in more than half a century.  Insurance for health is no longer insurance, it is subsidized health expenditures masquerading as insurance, and the system we have created over the years artificially inflates cost, hides prices through an insane system of middle men, forces employers to run the healthcare system, and stifles innovation and competition.

I am one of the leading advocates for free market policy reform in Maine, so Fried knew she could get clicks by perverting my words as some kind of insane endorsement for a broken system.  But her absurd claim is obviously nonsense.

I advocate for a true free market healthcare system.  I am, as a classical liberal in the modern libertarian tradition, farther to the right than nearly all of the most conservative members of Congress on this issue.  Claiming I support Obamacare, or am arguing that it is “working” should be humiliating to Fried.

But beyond being an advocate for free markets, I am also an advocate for rational policy discussions and solutions.  Based on my understanding of the post Obamacare healthcare system, all my column said was that destroying the ACA was a bit more complex than a straight repeal.

If that is what counts as “saying Obamacare is working” these days, than Fried is living in parallel universe.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.