was an intentional, core feature
misled Americans about the “health reform” legislation that Democrats
were trying to push through Congress in 2009.
Nevada’s Harry Reid, atop the U.S. Senate as majority leader, was also
regularly telling the country, “If you like the health care you have,
you can keep it.”
That’s what a survey of the Congressional Record — the official
journal of the U.S. Congress — shows.
During the summer of 2009, Sen. Reid made that pledge from the Senate
floor eight times. Usually he repeated it rote, word for word.
All of Reid’s lieutenants in the Senate leadership — Dick Durbin
(Ill.), Chuck Schumer (NY) and Patty Murray (Wash.) — did the same,
carefully enunciating that same assurance, exactly verbatim. A
plurality of other Senate Democrats also made sure to inject the same
promise, word for word, in their public remarks.
Why were Sen. Reid and Senate Democrats always so careful to recite
the “you can keep it” phrase with virtually no changes, almost like a
verbal tic? Because they had a big problem and Democratic Party
“message-framing experts” were saying those specific words had been
scientifically tested in polls and focus groups to solve their
Simply stated, the Democrats’ problem was that big majorities of
Americans, polls showed, didn’t want what the party was selling.
People were fearful that what the GOP was characterizing as “a
government takeover of health care” would, indeed, end up taking away
the private insurance coverage they already had — and with which they
were well satisfied.
Actually, what the Democrat messaging experts — longtime top party
pollster and strategist Celinda Lake and the leftist Herndon Group —
had found was unsurprising: When people were assured that their health
plans, doctors and hospitals wouldn’t be taken away from them, their
opposition to the legislation diminished.
Thus, making that simple, clear promise — even if not true — offered
Senate Democrats a way to gain a short-term edge in the warfare over
And they took it.
Today, four years later, the assurances that President Obama, Reid and
Senate Democrats made to the American people have been designated by
PolitiFact.com as the Lie of the Year, while the President, for his
repeated misrepresentations, was given four Pinocchios by the
Washington Post’s Fact Checker and included atop its “biggest
Pinocchios of 2013” page.
Is it possible that Sen. Reid and his top Senate lieutenants never
understood that the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” they
were designing would, if passed, kick most Americans out of their
pre-Obama health-care plans?
It seems exceedingly unlikely. As Politico’s John Harris and David
Nather wrote last November, the “larger longer-term threat” to
Obamacare is that it is “working precisely the way it is supposed to
The “stumbling start” of the HealthCare.gov website, they opine, “is
that it shined a harsh light on intended consequences — more costs and
more government regulation — that were always embedded in the ACA but
were deliberately downplayed by Obama and Democrats.”
Now, they say, “some very clear tradeoffs that were always central to
Obamacare have been put on sharp display:
It is, in many respects, a classic social welfare program. Like other
social programs, it involves transferring from haves to have-nots.
Healthy people are going to have to pay to help sick people get
coverage. People who had skimpy coverage before — and in some cases,
not-so-skimpy coverage — will have to upgrade to insurance that covers
more things, but costs more. And young people will have to pay so
older people don’t face sky-high premiums…
For some people, the policy changes were always going to be highly
disruptive… The law eventually has to move people with individual
coverage into new plans with stronger rules and benefits. Whether it
happens now or later, it has to happen — otherwise the new market
There is no subtle way to control costs. To keep the prices of the new
plans from rising even higher, a lot of them have narrower networks of
doctors and hospitals than the health plans most Americans are used
to. And the cheapest Obamacare plans have high deductibles — so people
who go for the lowest monthly premiums may find that they’re stuck
with higher out-of-pocket expenses.
The changes will be felt by more than a sliver of the population. You
may not be taxed directly to pay for the financing of Obamacare
itself, which includes subsidies to help low and middle-income people
buy coverage. But health insurers will be, and they’re going to pass
their costs on to you. And there’s talk that employers could follow
the lead of the Obamacare exchanges and shift to narrower doctor
networks in a few years — because they’re running out of other ways to
control their own costs.
It is not as if these trade-offs — the kind required by any big social
program — were not understood by experts at the time Obamacare was
being debated in 2009 and 2010. But they certainly weren’t part of the
pitch Obama and the Democrats made to the rest of America — the people
who shouldn’t have had to read between the lines to know what was
going to happen.
The New York Times recently noted that the ACA legislation put
together by Sen. Reid and his lieutenants — consulting closely with
the Obama White House — was in essence a wealth-redistribution scheme.
It was designed to, by law, take resources away from the 80-plus
percent of Americans who purchase health-care insurance they like and
use those resources — in the words of the Times’ John Harwood —“to
extend health coverage to those who had been either locked out or
priced out of the market.”
Headlined, “Don’t Dare Call the Health Law ‘Redistribution’,” the
October 11 Times article said the “R-word” is, “these days…
particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away
to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less
a target for Republicans, who have long accused Democrats of seeking
“But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of
the law,” continued Harwood, “and lies at the heart of the insurance
market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.”
While the Politico and New York Times articles are recent, as far back
as November 2009 the Congressional Budget Office had notified Reid and
other Democrats that the bill they were preparing to pass would raise
premium costs for most insurance plans in the individual market.
In a letter to Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, copies of which went to Reid
and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the CBO reported that it
and the staff of Joint Committee on Taxation “estimate that the
average premium per person covered (including dependents) for new
nongroup policies would be about 10 percent to 13 percent higher in
2016” than if the Affordable Care Act was not passed.
The higher-cost premiums, said the CBO, reflected the new “essential
health benefits” that insurance companies must include in their
policies, and thus individuals seeking health insurance must purchase
— such as maternity care, whether or not the individual is male or a
post-menopausal female, prescription drugs, mental health, substance
abuse treatment and whatever other “benefits” that the federal
Secretary of Health and Human Services may decide to require.
The CBO noted that initially some individual insurance policies could
be “grandfathered in” at today’s prices, but that “because of
relatively high turnover in that market (as well as the incentives for
many enrollees to purchase a new policy in order to obtain subsidies),
it expected that “relatively few nongroup policies” would remain at
the lower prices by 2016.
More recently, the American Action Forum — run by Douglas Holtz-Eakin,
a former director of the CBO — surveyed major insurers who represent
“the vast majority of covered individuals in the U.S,” to learn how
they saw the ACA impacting premiums in the individual and small group
“In sum,” Holtz-Eakin reported, “the ACA promises massive sticker
shock to the relatively young and healthy… Across all markets, the
ACA will dramatically increase the cost of insurance for the young and
healthy individuals and small employers… In contrast, older and
sicker individuals and small employers will be subsidized, leading to
an average decline [in their health-insurance premiums] of just under
In addition to the higher costs for premiums, deductibles and co-pays
that Obamacare imposes on individuals, people increasingly are losing
access to specialty care and their doctors — precisely the result that
Sen. Reid and the Obama administration repeatedly promised would never
happen. Because the ACA largely converts America’s health-insurance
industry into a federally regulated public utility, insurers are
extremely limited in ways they can, under the ACA, limit expenses.
One of the few paths available to them has been, notes the Washington
Post, is to set up provider “networks that are far smaller than what
most Americans are accustomed to.”
“A number of the nation’s top hospitals — including the Mayo Clinic in
Minnesota, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, and children’s hospitals in
Seattle, Houston and St. Louis — are cut out of most plans sold on the
exchange,” reports the Post.
Sen. Reid’s website today still boasts of his central role in the
passage of Obamacare, listing it as one of his preeminent
“The Affordable Care Act,” it still says, “will ensure that all
Nevadans and Americans have access to quality, affordable health
coverage. This reform will not only lower costs, but improve choices,
competition and offer more assistance to ensure that all Americans can
afford health insurance.”
Steven Miller is the managing editor of Nevada Journal, a publication
of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more in-depth reporting,
visit http://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.