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Obamacare’s Ugly Authoritarian Problem

Are Americans too ignorant to understand what’s good for them? Plenty of liberals think so.


You can’t keep your insurance if you like it under Obamacare because you’re too ignorant to understand what’s good for you.

That’s the argument we’ve been hearing from a lot of folks on the left; an argument that pivots from “common good” to soft authoritarianism. According to Michael Tomasky, President Barack Obama is all in, as well, claiming that he was merely guilty of forcing Americans to pick a ‘Ferrari’ over ‘Ford’ health-care plan. (Is it really “picking” if you’re forced?)

This is necessary because health care is not a product like a toaster is a product. (It only took me a few seconds online to find 613 different types of toasters, ranging in price from over $300 to $15. They weren’t subsidized and I could carry them across state lines, even. If health care were like toasters we’d all be in great shape.) And, like anything that features negative externalities, technocrats will tinker, nudge and, inevitably, push.

“America doesn’t have a free-market health care system and hasn’t for decades,” Business Insider’s Josh Barro wrote in a piece titled “If You Like Your Health Plan, You Probably Shouldn’t Be Able To Keep It .” “With taxpayer subsidies so embedded in everybody’s plan purchasing decisions, taxpayers have a legitimate interest in ensuring that health plans serve the public interest, not just private interests.”

“Legitimate” is a malleable adjective. Just think of all the other areas of American society that are subsidized by taxpayers: agriculture, higher education, the auto industry, the banking industry, professional sports, marriage … the possibilities are endless. Why is Washington allowing 20-year-old college students work on business degrees when we need them to be engineers and factory workers? We subsidize, why don’t we decide?

Then there is this piece by contributor Sally Kohn titled “A canceled health plan is a good thing“:

Here’s what this boils down to:

Will some people lose their current insurance? Yes.

Will these same folks lose health insurance coverage? No.

They will all have access to better plans and in many cases pay less because of expanded options and tax credits.

You’re not getting what you want you’re getting what you need. Kohn – unsheathing the “public good” justification that opponents of same-sex marriage regularly use — fails to mention even once that the president explicitly assured Americans while campaigning for the Affordable Care Act that, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” NBC News is reporting that the Obama Administration knew that millions of Americans would probably lose their current health plans due to the implementation of the law, yet it went on lying. And ACA also states rather clearly that existing coverage should not be altered:

keep your plan

It’s almost as if some people believe lying is acceptable – even preferable — if the political outcomes are morally pleasing to them. Many Obamacare supporters, in fact, are beginning to sound like they couldn’t care less about process, the law, order, competence, or anything that undermines the goal of putting your health-care choices into more capable hands.

As Noah Rothman elegantly put it:

The technocratic conceit has always been that their judgment should supplant the will of the public. Their methods, they assure themselves, are always justified because the end is noble and the opposition is never arguing in good faith. If they were, the technocrat insists, there would be no opposition in the first place.

But even the more specific arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.

Admittedly, many people do stupid things that aren’t good for them. And though I may not know exactly what I need, I probably know as much about what I need as Sally Kohn or Barack Obama – or even the 51.1 percent of electorate that voted for the president. The reason Kohn, and many of the others, believe Americans should be thankful for a paternalistic administration that en masse pushed us into (supposedly) top-shelf plans, is that they either don’t believe in markets or don’t understand how they work (in some cases, most likely, both).

Let me put it this way: There’s this Chinese restaurant near my house. It’s not the cleanest place, granted. And the folks who “work” there are, it seems, completely disinterested in my dining experience. The food is priced accordingly. But I love the dumplings. It’s really all that matters to me. There’s another Chinese place nearby. This one is newer. It has a friendly and attractive staff. It offers me clean silverware and I walk on expensive contemporary tiles. All that classy stuff is nice and it’s also embedded into the price of my dumplings — which are no better. I don’t want to pay for the tiles. I just want the dumplings.

In health care, and other things, we often pick plans that offer us something we value above other things. Americans don’t need all their plans to look the same. Maybe some of them like the customer service, maybe some like the stability of staying with one company for many years. This is why 600 toasters in an open market is preferable to a handful of choices in a fabricated “market” exchange.

But the argument also tells us something about the long-term purpose of the law.

We were told that the individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase health insurance or face a fine tax was necessary because “free riders” were burdening the rest of society and stressing the system. We were told that we needed reform so those with health-care insurance could subsidize those without it. This, it was argued, was moral and economically sensible. Then we were told that Obamacare would impel greedy insurance companies to offer us the things we liked – the coverage of preexisting conditions and 26-year-old children – so that everyone would have plans that were reasonable and fair. Never were we told that ACA was meant to shield people from their own bad choices.

What many people feared, and were mocked for, was that Obamacare was just the beginning of Washington micromanaged consumer choices. Most people still won’t be affected by ACA, granted, but think about the system as they see it:

1 — It forces every person to enter into the marketplace. 2 — It dictates what products companies that operate in that marketplace must sell – which is also a mechanism by which the administration can force consumers to subsidized coverage they may have moral qualms with. 3 — And now it compels individuals not only to buy a product, but to buy the exact product Washington decides.

Now, if a person were prone to paranoia, all of this might sound a bit authoritarian to them. But even if they’re not, hearing liberals tell them they don’t need what they want is quite telling.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.