The right shifts on the ‘insurance trap’

Cathey Park shows her bandaged hand written "I love Obamacare" as she waits to hear US President Barack Obama speaking on healthcare at the Faneuil Hall in Boston, Mass., on Oct. 30, 2013.
Cathey Park shows her bandaged hand written “I love Obamacare” as she waits to hear US President Barack Obama speaking on healthcare at the Faneuil Hall in Boston, Mass., on Oct. 30, 2013.
Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty
The Congressional Budget Office this week determined that in the coming years, the Affordable Care Act will free over 2 million Americans from what’s often called the “insurance trap” – folks who want to voluntarily leave jobs but can’t because their families need the coverage. This CBO finding was quickly manipulated, misstated, and turned into a bogus attack.
It shouldn’t have been. As the editorial board of the New York Times noted yesterday, “The new law will free people, young and old, to pursue careers or retirement without having to worry about health coverage. Workers can seek positions they are most qualified for and will no longer need to feel locked into a job they don’t like because they need insurance for themselves or their families. It is hard to view this as any kind of disaster.”
For the right, two camps have taken shape. The first is willfully ignoring reality in the hopes of deceiving the public into thinking “Obamacare will cut over 2 million jobs.” In North Carolina, this demonstrable falsehood is already being incorporated into attack ads.
The second, however, realizes what the CBO actually said, but nevertheless believes freeing Americans from the “insurance trap” is itself a bad idea and an unworthy policy goal. Rich Lowry, for example, published this item for Politico:
The Democrats once styled themselves the party of workers. Now, they are the party of people who would have been workers, if it hadn’t been for Obamacare. […]
Perhaps not since Southern fire-eaters attacked Northern “wage slavery” in the mid-19th century has a good honest day’s work been talked about so dismissively. It turns out that discouraging work is just another one of the wonders of Obamacare.
Ed Rogers wrote a Washington Post piece along the same lines, condemning progressives in a blistering indictment. “The White House and the left are admitting that they think less work and less initiative in the workplace is perhaps a good thing.” Rogers added that he finds the Democratic position simply “incredible.”
Just so we’re clear, for these conservatives, the new argument is that it’s bad – if not genuinely outrageous – to make it easier for Americans to voluntarily leave the jobs they don’t want.
And in a deeply amusing twist, let’s not forget Republicans used to believe the exact opposite.
Sahil Kapur explained this morning:
Republicans and conservative wonks have long supported de-linking health insurance from employment in order to give workers more economic freedom. But now they’re attacking Obamacare for … doing just that. […]
It has been an important conservative goal – before and after the Obamacare debate poisoned intra-GOP politics – to give workers more flexibility and freedom to retain health insurance if they switch jobs or quit. Indeed, existing health care alternatives by conservatives would have similar effects on workers.
“De-linking health insurance from employment has been a big theme in conservative proposals, and frankly liberal proposals too (e.g. single payer plans),” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Quite right. This was a notable conservative goal, right up until many on the right noticed “Obamacare” would help Americans reach this goal, at which point it immediately became contemptible and an “incredible” outrage.
Imagine there’s a young entrepreneur with a great idea who wants to leave her unsatisfying job and start a new venture, but she can’t because she doesn’t want to lose health care benefits for herself and her family. The Affordable Care Act will make it easier for her to take advantage of her entrepreneurial spirit without giving up her access to affordable medical care. Does this mean ACA proponents believe, as Ed Rogers put it, that “less work and less initiative in the workplace is perhaps a good thing”?
Imagine there’s an older factory worker who’s saved up and is ready to retire, but he’s not quite eligible for Medicare and doesn’t want to go uninsured. The health care law will allow him to leave the workplace, giving up his job to someone else. Does this mean, as Rick Lowry put it, the ACA is “discouraging work”?
Kevin Drum raised a point yesterday that not everyone in this labor-force dynamic fits into a politically satisfying narrative (like, say, a parent who wants to stay home with a child without giving up health care coverage). Many will be Americans at the bottom of the income scale who’ll worry about losing benefits as their incomes go up. It’s a fair point and should be part of the conversation.
But that’s not the point Lowry, Rogers, and many on the right are trying to make at all. On the contrary, they seem to be adopting the Democratic argument and rephrasing it to make it sound ugly, which isn’t really much of an argument at all, and is wholly inconsistent with what Republicans have been arguing for years.

Affordable Care Act and Obamacare

The right shifts on the 'insurance trap'