The Spectacle Blog

Obamacare and Progressive Delusions About the Poor

By on 3.11.14 | 5:46PM

Progressives see the world as a simple dichotomy, pitting the powerful and the wealthy against the oppressed and the poor. Politics consists of the oppressed rising up and making their lives better by diminishing the powerful. The federal government is the instrument of this rebalancing, whether through spending programs, progressive taxation, or laws that encourage equality.

So it’s no surprise that progressives would try to cram the results of the Obamacare law into this template. Here’s Paul Krugman last month:

The most likely answer [to why the GOP supposedly can’t get political traction] is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans.

Setting aside the issue of whether young people who can’t buy cheap health insurance are “well-off,” Krugman’s argument is that Obamacare is only adversely affecting the wealthy. And who really gives a damn about them? The comfortable progressive worldview—in which government acts to benefit the powerless—is once again reinforced.

Except it’s not true. The clearest indicator of this is, surprisingly, a recent CNN poll that found a slight spike in the health law’s popularity:

The poll indicates that the rebound in support for Obamacare has come almost entirely among upscale Americans. The law made no headway among people who make less than $50,000 - 35% of them supported it in December, and 35% support it now.  But among people who make $50,000 or more, support rose from 36% to 46%.

The word “upscale” is misleading; as Ed Morrissey pointed out, people who make $50,000 a year aren’t sipping Dom Perignon at garden parties. But for Obamacare support to jump 10 percent among the wealthy and middle class, while remaining stagnant with the poor, is a clear indicator that Obamacare isn’t serving the powerless like it was intended. If Krugman is right and the poor are currently frolicking through a red-tape wonderland of subsidies and Medicaid coverage, then why do they hate the law so much?

The answer is that they’re not the ones benefitting from it. The management consulting firm McKinsey recently ran a study which found that only 14 percent of those who had bought new coverage through the Obamacare exchanges and paid their first month’s premium were previously uninsured. But that’s because of problems with the website, you damned right-wingers! The study also found that a full 50 percent of those who didn’t enroll on the exchanges in January cited high premiums, while only 27 percent blamed technical challenges. Customers didn't buy Obamacare insurance because customers couldn't afford Obamacare insurance.

It’s a nice thing to live in a gauzy dream-world where the state acts as an efficient servant of the poor. But in real life, government is a clumsy and disruptive instrument more likely to rig the system in favor of the powerful. And so once again, well-connected companies are carving out exemptions and the wealthy are weathering the higher costs, while the poor find themselves unable to pay. Progressives cling to their oppressor-oppressed dichotomy, but their policies only make the gap between those groups wider.

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