Liberal academics have always been among those who have been the most ardent supporters of ObamaCare. But the Harvard faculty is now discovering the joys of ObamaCare and, as the New York Times reports, are no more pleased with it than many other Americans. That this same group, many of whose members played prominent roles in promoting the passage of the Affordable Care Act, should now be experiencing its problems is cold comfort to fellow sufferers. But the outrage that Harvard professors are venting about being asked to pay more for fewer benefits is a delightful example of liberal hypocrisy at its worst.
The Harvard story is yet another example of the basic political problem with the ACA. Prior to its implementation, both its supporters and many of its critics believed that once in force it would become as popular as Social Security or Medicare and become politically untouchable. But that failed to take into account the fact that unlike those venerable government benefit programs that are viewed as harming no one (except, perhaps, the taxpayers of the future), ObamaCare is a scheme that creates winners and losers.
In the case of those who purchased their insurance on their own, we learned in the last year that President Obama’s oft-repeated promise that consumers could keep their insurance policies and doctors if they liked them under the ACA was a lie. But the damage is not limited to those several million unhappy ObamaCare losers. As Harvard’s faculty learned, the law will have a far-reaching impact even on those who are covered by large, successful employers like Harvard.
In the case of the university, the problem is the so-called “Cadillac tax” that penalizes those insurance plans that offer, as Harvard’s previously did, high-quality benefits at reasonable prices. This tax penalizes consumers who have been able to acquire good plans in order to pay for all the free services that ObamaCare provides to less fortunate citizens, many millions of whom must be considered net winners from the law.
As the Times notes, the new Harvard plan is, in fact, far more generous than the sort of coverage people who buy ObamaCare policies online can expect. But it is not what Harvard employees are accustomed to receiving and they don’t like it. If the university were to try and craft a plan that would limit health-care providers to only the cheapest available in the Boston area, they’d have to eliminate Harvard’s own teaching hospitals, or “discourage their use” by those covered by the scheme.
But rather than meekly the accept the higher costs for insurance as the price that must be paid for expanding society’s social safety net, many of the same liberal Harvard faculty that helped sell the country on the ACA are now crying foul. They see the new reality as nothing less than a pay cut. One economics professor summed up the problem this way:
But Jerry R. Green, a professor of economics and a former provost who has been on the Harvard faculty for more than four decades, said the new out-of-pocket costs could lead people to defer medical care or diagnostic tests, causing more serious illnesses and costly complications in the future.
“It’s equivalent to taxing the sick,” Professor Green said. “I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.”
Ah, but he’s wrong there. By attempting to transform its health-care industry in this manner, the United States is seeking to make those middle-class consumers who sometimes get sick pay a lot more in order to provide coverage for those who are less wealthy. Like it or not, as Harvard teachers are learning, ObamaCare is Robin Hood-style leveling except the government is stealing from the middle class to give to the poor.
Some on the faculty are right to observe that it was unrealistic for pro-ObamaCare types like the Harvard faculty to imagine that they would be held exempt from being hurt by the ACA’s mandates.
Meredith B. Rosenthal, a professor of health economics and policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, said she was puzzled by the outcry. “The changes in Harvard faculty benefits are parallel to changes that all Americans are seeing,” she said. “Indeed, they have come to our front door much later than to others.”
Yet even more to the point was another comment from a faculty member:
“It seems that Harvard is trying to save money by shifting costs to sick people,” said Mary C. Waters, a professor of sociology. “I don’t understand why a university with Harvard’s incredible resources would do this. What is the crisis?”
Waters seems to be saying that Harvard is a rich enough institution that it should merely absorb the higher health-care costs caused by the ACA. But like any large company, even a non-profit with an enormous endowment, Harvard feels it must behave in the same fashion as the rest of the country and pass along the costs mandated by the ObamaCare tax. But the real disconnect is her failure to understand that the same argument—the lack of a genuine crisis creating a need for immediate and radical changes—was one that critics of the law rightly made before its passage.
It is true that many Americans benefit from the ACA. But as Harvard professors have now learned, the number of losers may well exceed those of the winners. In the process, a massive dislocation of one sixth of the nation’s economy has occurred with even more trouble to come this year as the individual mandates go into effect, possibly sending rates skyrocketing and perhaps also negatively impacting employment figures at a time when the nation is hoping that a full recovery from the 2008 recession is finally taking place.
The point is the United States didn’t have to turn its health-care system upside down while vastly increasing the power of the federal government in 2009 and 2010 when President Obama insisted that the Democratic Congress do just that. Measures that might have helped the nation recover should have been a higher priority. There were also possible fixes for the uninsured that didn’t involve this sort of transformation. But the Democrats went ahead and passed this law on a narrow party-line vote even though they had little or no idea, as then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted, what was in it.
But she wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was coming. Most Americans, including many liberals who were among the most ardent backers of this scheme, had no idea that it would mean forcing them to pay more for health insurance and, unlike in the case of Harvard, often also mean that they would lose access to providers they were pleased with and policies that made sense for them.
We may well mock liberals like the denizens of Harvard’s faculty lounges who blithely support huge changes that aimed at social transformation yet believed they could keep their own “Cadillac plans” without higher costs. But the problem here is that the entire nation was sold a bill of goods and is now being forced to swallow a bad deal in order to achieve gains that may not be commensurate with the pain that comes with them. That is why those who still blithely assume that the debate about this law is over are dead wrong.