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D. Brad Wright

D. Brad Wright

Posted: April 26, 2010 11:00 AM

Did the Heritage Foundation Invent ObamaCare?

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Today, another lesson in why you should never take anything Rush Limbaugh says at face value without first doing your homework. On his radio program, Rush called President Obama a liar for making claims that the health care law contains numerous Republican ideas--including the idea of the insurance exchanges, which Obama says came from The Heritage Foundation, but which Rush says is "Total BS."

In fairness, before you read this post any further, why don't you go ahead and confirm Limbaugh's remarks for yourself by reading or listening to the segment. Okay. Now that you've done that, can we agree that I've accurately captured Limbaugh's remarks? Good. Time to debunk them.

For starters, ObamaCare is nearly identical to RomneyCare (the Massachusetts reforms) in many respects, and Heritage took credit for the RomneyCare ideas. So, to the extent that RomneyCare and ObamaCare are similar, Heritage has every right to take credit for the ideas in ObamaCare. The fact that they don't want to is another story.

Better yet, Stuart Butler wrote a piece on the "Exchange We Can Believe In" in which he leads off by saying: "The president-elect didn't invent the idea of a health exchange. He came up with his own version of an idea that's been refined by people like us at the Heritage Foundation and already field tested. Frankly, we prefer the original." He didn't say that the idea originated with Heritage, but he certainly seems to suggest that Heritage bought into and further developed the idea well before Obama or the Democrats in Congress took a shine to it. Butler continues "It's better to have exchanges operate at the state level. This assures that an exchange can be adapted to the local insurance market. Massachusetts' could continue to be the Connector, say, while Virginia's might be based on the FEHBP. But a federal-level exchange run by Congress would likely lead to a homogenous, one-size-fits-all system. Sure, general goals could be set at the national level, but if state health experts can figure a better way to reach those goals, let them try."

Guess what? The health insurance exchanges that Congress just passed into law? Yeah, they're implemented at the state level. So, once again, Heritage has every right to take credit for the ideas in ObamaCare. They just don't want to. That doesn't seem to me to be the workings of a "nonpartisan" think-tank. It's fine to be a conservative think-tank. Just don't try to have it both ways, because when you do, you lose your objectivity and your credibility won't be far behind.

For the best overview of this whole Heritage Foundation flip-flop, you need to read Timothy Noah's piece at Slate.


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