11/05/2013 04:12 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

Here's The Dumbest Critique Of Obamacare Ever Written (So Far, Anyway)


Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Dennis Byrne takes issue with "Obama's healthy dose of misinformation." But it's not the same "misinformation" that has rightly gotten President Barack Obama in dutch, lately -- the whole "If you like your plan, you can keep it" line that comes with footnotes and asterisks all over the place. Rather, Byrne has a more ornate complaint that does not actually make any sense at all.

Basically, honor compels me to say that Obamacare critics really deserve better than this guy.

In Byrne's estimation, Obama is wrong to point out that some insurers are essentially selling "health insurance" that amounts to little more than some hardcore grifting. Byrne essentially deems this to be a big lie:

Calling those insurers "bad apples," [Obama] implied that the insurance industry is unbridled, free to cheat Americans by writing policies that don't pay legitimate claims, rob you blind and leave you grossly unprotected. MSNBC's Chris Matthews reliably chimed in, calling them "junk policies."

This is an exaggeration.

It's not an exaggeration at all. Here is a lengthy piece from Consumer Reports that accurately describes the terrible, rip-off insurance policies available to the public in 2009 and lays out "7 signs a health plan might be junk," including many things that are now rated as not Obamacare-compliant.

But Byrne doesn't appear to be that angry at the president for pointing this out. Rather, he feels that Obama is in the wrong because he -- or someone else, at either the state or federal level -- could have done something to stop those companies from selling their rip-off plans, but chose not to.

So, if there are bad-apple insurers, it's because Obama's own Health and Human Services bureaucracy has allowed them. Or that lawmakers -- of which he was one -- in the states and Congress didn't bother fixing them.

Obama's efforts to trash all policies that don't meet his standards defy reality. Existing federal and state regulations prescribe a detailed array of approved products, mandated benefits, consumer protections, group health plan standards and insurer financial solvency requirements.

Byrne then essentially observes that governments at all levels have, in the past, made an effort to regulate the health insurance market. I don't actually know why he bothers to do this. I suppose that in Byrne's mind, this bolsters his argument that governments have previously taken a pass at taking on substandard insurers, or at the very least seemed disinterested in policing these "bad apples" in the marketplace. So, OK, let's concede that point. Tsk-tsk, state and federal government! You let these bad insurers off the hook for a long, long time!

And that would be a pretty searing indictment if, say, Obama had complained about these insurers whilst sitting on his hands and not attempting to reform this system, but multiple reports indicate that Obama signed something called "the Affordable Care Act" into law, and "the Affordable Care Act," as it turns out, actually attempts to codify some higher standards for health insurance. This is, in large part, why a certain number of people are finding out that they can't keep their terrible insurance.

Is Byrne's argument that government, having done a bad job in protecting consumers from the predations of sketchy insurance companies for many years, shouldn't have the opportunity to protect them now? That seems to be part of it. But there's also a healthy dose of "the stupid people who bought these bad policies just deserve to be punished for being so stupid."

We can disagree on whether these laws and regulations provide sufficient benefits, but for Obama to declare them effectively illegal without a proper hearing? How many of you can define what policies are standard or substandard? What makes them so? Who decided which policies are junk? Are all Americans too stupid to judiciously pick policies that meet their own needs?

It's not that Americans are stupid; it's that the rip-off artists are really, really talented! From that 2009 Consumer Reports investigation:

Compounding the problem of limited policies is the fact that policyholders are often unaware of those limits -- until it’s too late.

"I think people don’t understand insurance, period," said Stephen Finan, associate director of policy at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "They know they need it. They look at the price, and that’s it. They don’t understand the language, and insurance companies go to great lengths to make it incomprehensible. Even lawyers don’t always understand what it means."

"The millions of Americans whose policies were summarily canceled without a clue as to why deserve better," Byrne writes. Well, do they deserve to have a new standard in place that ends the practice of lifetime caps on policy payouts? Because that significantly lowers the chance that people are going to go into catastrophic debt just because they don't want to die. That's one of the things the Affordable Care Act codifies as a standard. So that's good, right?

Not to Byrne. See, the people who bought those terrible plans were getting something even better than health care -- they were getting freedom: "This issue is more important than the administration's laughable attempts to sugarcoat Obamacare's disastrous rollout. It lays bare the essential problem with Obamacare: Somewhere, someone completely out of sight is deciding what is best for you. No appeals allowed. No deviations permitted."

I guess the preferred alternative here is for someone completely out of sight to sit back and allow you the freedom to enroll in fake health insurance, find out later that it's a big rip-off, and then either die or go into debt and let the rest of us subsidize the cost of that mistake. This is strange, considering that we are nominally against things like salmonella outbreaks and poisoned toys from China and permitting industrial workers to wear shower sandals on the job. And remember, the "deviation" here would be maintaining the existence of these terrible rip-off plans, which Byrne was just blasting "lawmakers ... in the states and Congress" for not "fixing" a long time ago!

This whole piece is just so strange! Byrne is angry at lawmakers for not doing more to fix the insurance market, but also very clearly not in favor of any government intervention to eliminate these terrible insurance policies. So he's now on record simultaneously castigating Obama for not doing more to end these bad consumer practices before he became president AND for doing what he did to end them once he did. It's a long, illogical bleat, dressed up as a respectable argument, that ultimately argues nothing at all, except for maybe making the case that someone should, perhaps, edit the Chicago Tribune.

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