There was an odd exchange at the White House press briefing yesterday between Fox News’ Ed Henry and press secretary Jay Carney, after the reporter asked, “Will White House staff enroll in Obamacare? Let’s start with you. Are you going to enroll?”
At the risk of sounding picky, the question itself is flawed because “Obamacare” isn’t just one thing. If a couple keeps their 24-year-old daughter on their family health plan, have they “enrolled” in the Affordable Care Act? How about if a senior citizen gets a break on prescription-drug costs? Or if a sick child no longer has to worry about lifetime limits? Or if an adult with a preexisting condition can suddenly get affordable coverage?
But assuming Henry is referring to exchange marketplaces, I get the impression, more than three years after the Affordable Care Act became law, Fox News’ White House correspondent is still struggling with the basics. Here was their back and forth;
Q: Would you enroll?
Q: It’s a simple question.
Q: Okay. So you are going to enroll?
Whether Ed Henry realizes this or not, there’s a reason the exchanges exist: they’re intended to provide options for those Americans who don’t currently have health care coverage and for small businesses who’d like to provide coverage for their employees. Americans who get insurance from their employers will continue to get their insurance from their employers.
That group, it turns out, includes White House employees and Fox News personalities. What Ed Henry was asking, in effect, is whether the president’s press secretary intends to voluntarily give up the health care coverage he and his family already have to enter a marketplace that wasn’t designed for people in Carney’s position.
But let’s take this a step further. Let’s say Ed Henry is under the impression that White House employees don’t have a health care plan, and he wants to know if the president’s uninsured press secretary would seek coverage through an exchange. Would Carney enroll under these circumstances?
The question is still rather bizarre.
Why wouldn’t Carney want health insurance for his family? Why would he consciously and deliberately ignore affordable coverage?
Ed Henry seemed to think he was being clever – why, I have no idea – but as Matt Yglesias noted, the Fox reporter’s question was actually “an incredible softball.”
Of course a 48-year-old man with a wife and two kids is going to prefer to have an insurance plan than to leave himself and his whole family uncovered…. And if the kids get a broken bone on the playground or Mom gets diagnosed with cancer, they’re going be really glad they had it. Unlike a less affluent family, the uninsured version of the Carneys probably aren’t at risk of someone dying due to a lack of medically necessary care. Instead, they’re at risk of bankruptcy as in the case of major illness or accident the health care industry will take them for every penny they have.
But either way, signing up for the exchange should be a no-brainer. There really is a smallish class of people out there – primarily affluent single men in their late 20s and early 30s with no chronic ailments – for whom you could try to make the case that signing up is a bad financial move. But asking Carney this question simply serves to underscore that for most uninsured Americans the exchanges are a great deal.