The Winners and Losers of Obamacare. July 2014 Edition.

July 23rd, 2014

In a column I wrote in October 2013, shortly after the launch of Obamacare, I offered an attempt to understand the winners and losers of the new law. Without a doubt, there would be those who benefit from the law. Healthcare was now more affordable for some, due to the Medicaid expansion (in some states), cost controls, and generous tax subsidies. Without a doubt, the uninsured rate would decrease. People who never had insurance before would now be able to afford insurance. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 10.3 million new people have health insurance, decreasing the number of uninsured people from 21% in September 2013 to 16.3% in April 2014. These are all great things. But, as we learned with Halbig, context is everything.

What are the costs of this law on the other millions of Americans? Who are the forgotten men (and women) of Obamacare:

At the forefront of all social welfare programs are the people being helped — the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged. The beneficiaries of such laws are obvious. Who are really forgotten are those who are being harmed by the law. And those harmed by the law are not merely the super wealthy, or those paying higher taxes. In the case of Obamacare, the harm will be felt most severely, not by the wealthy, but by those forgotten men and women squeezed in the middle.

First, there are also those who were covered by their employers’ plans, but were dropped, and forced onto the insurance exchanges. Second, and even more pernicious, are those who are dropped from full-time employment to part-time employment because their employer cannot afford to pay for Obamacare’s more expensive plans. Obamacare perversely creates incentives for employers to do both of these things.

Third, there are those who had individual plans, which their insurers cancelled. Obamacare rendered many cheaper plans with less coverage illegal, so insurers simply stopped offering them. Fourth, those who live in states where insurers exit the markets will have less choice, and higher prices. This flight is especially prominent in rural areas where low populations do not justify the costs of participating in the exchanges. Insurers shrugged.

Fifth, there are those who will have to pay higher premiums, and more out-of-pocket costs, to cover the cost of insuring the poor and sick. The director of Covered California admits as much. “People could have kept their cheaper, bad coverage, and those people wouldn’t have been part of the common risk pool. We are better off all being in this together.” Obamacare helps the winners (makes their health care more affordable), by penalizing the losers (makes their health care less affordable).

Now, we are beginning to realize the costs of the law, beyond those who have gained insurance. A new CNN poll suggests that barely 1 in 5 are better off under Obamacare, and many more are worse off.

Eighteen percent of Americans, or fewer than one in five, say they or someone in their family is better off because of the Affordable Care Act, according to a new poll by CNN. Nearly twice that number, 35 percent, say they or someone in their family is worse off. A larger group, 46 percent, say they are about the same after Obamacare as before.

In nearly all demographic categories — age, income, education, etc. — more people say they are worse off because of Obamacare than say they are better off.

For example, one might expect respondents with incomes below $50,000 to be somewhat likely to say Obamacare has helped them. And that is the case: 21 percent say they are better off because of the Affordable Care Act. But 35 percent say they are worse off. (Forty-four percent are the same.)

Likewise, one might expect young respondents to report benefits from Obamacare. And they do: 23 percent say they’re better off. But 33 percent say they’re worse off. (Forty-three percent are the same.)

In other categories, the gap between better off and worse off is larger. In just one demographic group, nonwhites, is the group of those who say they are better off, 29 percent, bigger than the group who say they are worse off, 17 percent. (Fifty-four percent say they are the same.)

The “worse off” numbers will continue to grow, as millions of Americans are thrown off their employer plans and put onto the Obamacare exchanges. Remember, within a decade, nearly 80% of Americans will be on the exchanges. Plus, the unpopularity rate of the law holds steady at 59%.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that this law was sold on a series of dangerous lies about how this would affect people. “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” As I noted back in October, if the Administration had been forthright about the impact of this law, it would have never passed.

Maybe our collective empathy for the plight of those helped by the law should reduce our concerns for the middle-class. Perhaps that would have been an important national debate to have had in 2010, or during the 2008 election. But Americans never had the conversation that would sanction such a radical transformation of our society. Arguably, we had the conversation in the early 1990s with HillaryCare, and the American people spoke decisively against it.

Obamacare was sold to the American people with the promise of helping both groups. In addition to promising that the poor and sick would be helped, everyone else was promised that they could keep their doctors. They were promised that health care costs would go down. They were promised that there would be no new taxes (the administration reversed this position as soon as the litigation began to defend Obamacare’s constitutionality). None of these things proved to be true.

Had the full picture of this law been understood back in 2010 — the impact on both the winners and losers — rather than the sugarcoated version rammed through Congress on a straight party-line vote, it is doubtful the law would have ever been passed.

But now, we are stuck with Obamacare, and its 2010 veneer is quickly decaying into its 2014 reality.

One of the main accusations of supporters of the ACA is that challenges to the law are “mean-spirited,” and are aimed at depriving millions of health insurance. Perhaps another way of looking at this dynamic is that challengers of the law recognize that the ACA is a boondoggle that will make things worse of in the long run for countless more Americans, and this is a last-ditch effort to avert disaster.