Obamacare is a 'varsity stinker'

OK, I can't help myself. Over the past three years, I have written at least a dozen columns critical of Obamacare (a.k.a. The "Affordable Care Act") in this space and devoted an entire chapter to the topic in my book "America: Hope for Change."

Yet, here I am with another piece on this man-made catastrophe. The reason: recently published stories that run right to my thesis — it's a varsity stinker that must be repealed.


One storyline concerns shocking comments made by a key adviser in designing the ACA, MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber. The relevant comments were recently released on YouTube, and include the following:

"This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure [Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. … Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass."

This cynical indictment of the president's signature legislative initiative is not brought to you by some partisan hack. This was the guy the White House turned to when it wanted to develop national health care reform, the guy whose ideas the president said he had "stolen ideas from liberally," who was paid $400,000 by the Obama administration to tell them how much it would cost to overhaul 16 percent of the American economy. Now we are informed it was a task he purposefully made hyper-confusing for the average health care consumer. Rarely is the general public forced to consume such Washington hubris in one fell swoop. But here it is in all its glory. Reminder: your tax dollars paid this guy's hefty fee.

Another story concerns the Supreme Court's decision to hear the case of King vs. Burwell. Recall the clear language of the ACA: Health insurance purchasers are eligible to receive subsidies when buying from state exchanges, but only 14 states set up an exchange. As a result, the feds stepped in with their own exchanges — with subsidies — despite no authorizing language in the law. Mr. Gruber has stated publicly his view that citizens of states without a state exchange do not qualify for subsidies: "if you're a state and you don't set up an exchange, that means your citizens don't get their tax credits, but your citizens still pay the taxes that support the bill."

Such was the carrot and stick approach used to encourage states to set up their own exchanges. And recall this is a critical issue since the ACA exempts individuals from its mandate if the cost of purchasing a policy exceeds 8 percent of the individual's income. Hence, millions of Americans who will become ineligible for subsidies will also be exempt from the individual mandate.

Storyline three concerns the increasing number of institutions and businesses deciding to either drop health benefits or cut worker hours in order to duck the ACA's employer mandate — the requirement that larger employers provide health coverage to their employees working at least 30 hours per week or face a $2,000 per employee penalty. Accordingly, today's headlines are replete with stories of employers dumping previously covered employees on to the Obamacare exchanges or cutting work schedules for part-time employees under the new 30 -our threshold. Fewer hours equals less take home income for millions of American workers.

Obamacare's numerous oversold promises will become the focus of increased congressional oversight now that Republicans have regained control of the Senate. Look for attempts to repeal the most damaging elements of the bill (including, but not limited to repeals of the medical device tax and the employer mandate, and a return to an under 40-hour definition of "part-time" employment) as the 114th Congress begins.

None of this should be surprising for those of you who have followed my long-running analysis of the ACA. Still, all of you should take the time to read the widely disseminated video transcripts of Professor Gruber. The condescension is startling, as is the deception.

For conservatives, the good professor's admissions are simply one more example of Washington, D.C.'s elitist attitude toward "fly-over" (read: red) America. Yet, maybe, the results of Nov. 4th show the average voter has grown tired of such treatment. One can certainly "hope" that such a "change" in attitude will extend beyond one election cycle.

On the other side of the aisle, the outing of Professor Gruber's cynical construction of Obamacare is a very public embarrassment. But nobody should be terribly surprised. This condescending attitude has been famously articulated by the president. Recall "they cling to their guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them" (on those opposed to immigration reform) and "they didn't build that" (on self-made entrepreneurs). These and other similar quips reflect the Obama Democrats' view that the great unwashed (that's you) really don't get it — you're just too ignorant to see that Washington knows best.

The ACA may indeed be one of the more damaging pieces of legislation passed by Congress in many years, but it sure has given us new insight into how and why progressives do what they do. Scary.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is