By Rich Lowry
Do you believe the president or your lying insurance premium?
Soon, that will be the most important question about Obamacare. President Barack Obama continues to insist that under the law, as he said in his pre-vacation press conference, people are going to be able to "sign up for affordable quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market."
This has been his sales pitch for his health care law from the beginning, and it's never been true. But admitting that Obamacare will mean higher rates for many people is too painful a concession to make, so the president simply doesn't make it, despite all the evidence contradicting his rote assurances of lower premiums.
The news reports of impending rate shock, driven by the law's new regulations, keep rolling in, especially in states that don't already have insurance rules like those in Obamacare. "Some lightly regulated states," CNN reports, "including Indiana, Ohio, Florida and South Carolina, have recently released preliminary rate information highlighting steep price increases." Florida estimates an average premium increase of 35 percent, and Ohio projects an average increase of 41 percent.
It is young and healthy people, forced by the law to buy expensive insurance that they wouldn't otherwise purchase, who will be particularly hard hit (the idea is that less healthy people will benefit). Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute crunched the numbers in California. He found that in San Francisco and San Diego, rates for 25-year-olds in the individual market will roughly double; and in Los Angeles County they will rise by 44 percent.
Small businesses are also vulnerable. According to the Associated Press, "Insurance companies have already warned small business customers that premiums could rise 20 percent or more in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act. That's making some owners consider not paying for coverage for workers' families."
In other words, the president is right that rates will change "significantly," just not in the direction he has promised since he began talking about health care reform. As a presidential candidate, he said his reform would lower premiums for families by $2,500 on average. He maintained that the only change for people already with insurance would be cheaper premiums. During the congressional debate over the law, arguments to the contrary were pooh-poohed and scorned by the president's allies.
Today, those arguments have been vindicated. Avik Roy points out that one PricewaterhouseCoopers study in 2009 that found premiums in the individual market would increase by 47 percent during the next few years was derided by the left, but may have been too modest in its projection. Yet the president still speaks as if premiums are only going down. Years ago, it could have been chalked up to wishfulness and ignorance of how insurance markets work. Now, it's simply refusing to acknowledge reality.
Defenders of the law minimize the rate increases by saying people will be getting better insurance for their money. Besides, they add, some low-income people will get subsidies. But this doesn't change the essential facts. If someone owned a Ford because it suited his budget and needs and then you made him buy a Cadillac, you are making him buy a pricier car. It is still a more expensive car, even if taxpayers offset some or all of the costs.
At least liberal analysts are willing to admit that premiums are going up, which the president can't yet bring himself to do. Jonathan Cohn, a staunch defender of the law at the New Republic, lamented the president's misleading remark at his press conference. He wrote of average listeners: "They'd come away thinking their insurance will be cheaper next year. For some, it won't be. Obama isn't doing himself, or the law, any favors by fostering a false expectation."
But that false expectation, surely, is the entire point, and always has been.