Harvard University students on their way about campus in Cambridge, Mass.
Photo by Gretchen Ertl/The New York Times/Redux

The right’s confused celebration about Harvard healthcare

If you pay attention to conservative online media, you know that one story yesterday became The Most Hilarious Article Ever for conservatives nationwide. The piece, of course, was this New York Times report on Harvard’s health care system.
For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.
Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.
For the right, the news was nothing short of delicious: liberal, Ivy League eggheads celebrated the Affordable Care Act, right up until they were confronted with higher premiums, caused by “Obamacare.” Now, conservatives declared, those Harvard elitists are starting to realize their precious ACA is awful, just as Republicans have warned all along.
Conservative media, feeling vindicated, spent the day celebrating the Harvard faculty’s discontent. And that’s a shame because the right’s crowing reinforced suspicions that conservatives still don’t understand what they’re talking about.
Let’s note at the outset that the Harvard faculty aren’t exactly facing hardship as a result of the Affordable Care Act. As Sarah Kliff noted, the scholars will transition from an extraordinarily generous health care plan to a still-amazing health care plan.
[T]he Harvard plan is still really generous. Professors will have better, more robust insurance coverage than most other people who get insurance at work. And they’ll definitely have better plans than the people buying coverage through Obamacare’s marketplace.
The New York Times story reports that the new Harvard plan will cover, on average, 91 percent of enrollees’ costs…. A plan that covers 91 percent of enrollees’ costs is not unprecedented. But it is definitely better than what most workers get offered.
To enjoy these wonderful benefits, Harvard faculty will now have to pay annual deductibles of $250 – which is more than the well-compensated scholars are used to paying, but far less than most American consumers are accustomed to.
In other words, those who see this story as proof of the ACA “punishing” people are badly confused.
But the more important conservative confusion deals with the circumstances that led to these changes at Harvard in the first place. As Jon Chait explained, the right suddenly found itself yesterday condemning health care changes championed by the right.
What makes this response funny, if not unusual, is that the reforms currently roiling the Harvard faculty are moderate versions of the reforms conservatives themselves not only have championed but continue to champion. The theory undergirding Harvard’s changes is that excessively generous health insurance is inefficient. If consumers bear zero cost, they will over-consume health-care services, thus driving up prices for everybody in the system. […]
As the Times reports, the changes are a response to Harvard’s own health-care experts, many of whom advocated for Obamacare. The story has thus entered the conservative mind as a case of liberal elites suffering under the yolk of a liberal program. “One imagines how all these pampered academics would feel if they were forced to use a silver (70% covered) Obamacare plan…” gloats Red State.
But of course the conservative objection to Obamacare isn’t that its silver plan, covering 70 percent of health-care costs, is too skimpy. The objection is just the opposite. Conservatives hate, or claim to hate, Obamacare because its benefits are too generous. They propose instead to replace the law with far skimpier benefits, so that healthy individuals can enjoy the low premiums that come with bare-bones plans covering fewer claims and offering less protection. They don’t think the 70 percent of costs covered in the Obamacare exchanges is too low. They think it’s too high.
Exactly. Conservatives don’t seem to realize this, but the changes at Harvard are exactly the kinds of changes the right wants to see – the faculty are being asked to have some “skin in the game,” creating some shared cost burdens between an employer and the employees.
For the right, condemnations of “Obamacare” have always been superficial, and yesterday only reinforced the problem. Conservatives saw a news story they thought reinforced their preconceived ideas – “Hey look! There’s a group of liberals unhappy with changes brought on by the ACA!” – but they never stopped to think their argument through.
When it comes to health care policy, the right is so eager to complain, it no longer finds it necessary to understand what it is conservatives are complaining about.

Affordable Care Act, Conservative Media, Harvard and Obamacare

The right's confused celebration about Harvard healthcare