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Monday, October 17, 2011

ObamaCare Starts to Unravel

The real story behind the Class program failure, and what to do now.

Now that one of ObamaCare's major new benefit programs has been scrapped, liberals are trying to make stone soup by claiming that the Obama Administration merely committed an act of "good government." They claim that when this long-term care insurance program proved to be unworkable, the Administration conceded as much, and now it's gone. So let's review the evidence, not least because it so perfectly illustrates the recklessness that produced the Affordable Care Act.

When Democrats were pasting it together in 2009 and 2010, the immediate attraction of the program known by the acronym Class was that its finances could be gamed to create the illusion that a new entitlement would reduce the deficit. Ending the complicated Class budget gimmick erases the better part of ObamaCare's purported "savings," but it's also worth focusing on the program's long-run political goals.

For decades Democrats have been trying to put government on the hook for middle-class costs like home health services ($1,800 a month on average) and nursing homes ($70,000 to $80,000 per year). On paper, Class was supposed to be like normal insurance, funding benefits through premiums with no subsidy. But since the budget gimmick and the program's larger structure meant that premiums could never cover benefits, Democrats were trying to force a future Congress to prevent a Class bankruptcy using taxpayer dollars.

As the costs to the federal fisc continued to climb, the Democratic gambit was that Class would gradually morph into another part of Medicare. Insurance depends on younger, healthier people signing up to cross-subsidize the older and sicker, but under the Class program as written almost all of its enrollees would soon also be beneficiaries.

So to fix this "adverse selection," the plan was for Congress to eventually make participation mandatory, with the so-called premiums converted into another payroll tax and the benefits into another entitlement. Former White House budget director Peter Orszag has been writing that the long-term care insurance market can't function without a mandate, while HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declined to rule one out at a Senate hearing in February. Now they tell us.


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