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ACA Zombies

Distorted overtures celebrating the great success of Obamacare continue, but no one who cares about the facts is buying the blather. Megan McArdle reminds us that even if we stipulate that the 9.9 million now enrolled on the exchanges have gained somethingObamacare has delivered far less than promised. McArdle also notes the high-risk skew of the population within the risk pools. That’s why insurers are losing money on Obamacare coverage, though their losses have been covered via government “risk corridors” thus far. In “Obamacare Bear Market” at wsj.com (links to a Google search result to get around the paywall — or just search “wsj Obamacare Bear”), we hear about the dismal financial performance of the Obamacare coops, which sell plans on the exchanges. The WSJ also reflects on a new working paper from Wharton economists:

They conclude that, ‘even under the most optimistic assumptions,’ half of the formerly uninsured take on both a higher financial burden and lower welfare, and on net ‘average welfare for the uninsured population would be estimated to decline after the ACA [Affordable Care Act] if all members of that population obtained coverage.’

In other words, ObamaCare harms the people it is supposed to help. This is not a prescription for a healthy, durable program.

Health economist John C. Goodman gives more detail on the Wharton study in “Obamacare is bad for the middle class. Even Ezra Klein admits that the health plan is a failure. Whether Klein really gets it or not, the result is just another failure of central planning. Here’s a quote from Michael Schaus from the last link:

The same people who failed miserably at launching a website will soon be regulating the sophisticated day-to-day decisions of hospitals, insurers and doctors.

Anticipating another year of disappointing enrollments ahead, the White House now is low-balling its enrollment target for 2016. This an apparent attempt to present a better face to the public when the bad numbers roll in.

Another piece by Goodman explains that “bending the cost curve” with Obamacare was always a fool’s errand. Again, it has a lot to do with the folly of central planning:

In a normal market, the entrepreneurs wake up every morning and ask themselves: How can I make costs lower, quality higher, and access to my product better today?

But in a bureaucratic system – where revenues are determined not by customer satisfaction, but by complicated payment formulas – they tend to wake up and ask: How can I get more money out of the payment formulas today?

Goodman explains that an insurance firm providing coverage through Medicare Advantage would have nothing to gain by introducing cost-saving innovations: all of the extra profit would be turned over to Medicare. Incentives matter, but bureaucrats often fail to understand incentives and their power to improve performance. Goodman also describes the poor results of the so-called Accountable Care Organizations, the futile pilot programs and demonstration projects related to the practice of medicine, and the gaming that has taken place within the hospital “pay-for-performance” program. Ironically, the most certain outcome of any attempt to impose central planning on an industry is that there will be unintended and undesirable consequences.

Goodman has written a book proposing an Obamacare replacement, entitled “A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions For America“. Here is David Henderson’s favorable review, in which he focuses on the negative labor market effects of Obamacare, including poor incentives for employers and work effort, among other things. To close, here’s an excerpt from Henderson’s introduction:

If you think that the Patient Protection and affordable Care act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) is bad because of its expense, the distortions it causes in the labor market, its failure to provide people what they really want, and its highly unequal treatment of people in similar situations, wait until you read John C. Goodman’s A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America. You will likely conclude that the ACA is even worse than you thought.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Goodman … proposes reforms that would do more for the uninsured than the ACA does, and at lower cost, and also would make things better for the currently insured. and it would do all this while avoiding mandates, creating more real competition among insurers, and making the health care sector more responsive to consumers….