For months now a number of conservatives have led me to believe that President Obama bought his re-election by showering gifts from the Treasury on growing liberal constituencies. So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed that many of those same conservatives are helping Ben Smith blow up his article about how Obamacare will actually screw over young people.
Now there’s no sense pretending a bunch of young, healthy taxpayers won’t be confronted with insurance premiums larger than their insurance subsidies, and thus be on the losing side of one of the ACA’s many reforms. It’s true. They will. If only somebody had pointed that out before the election!
But, of course, people have been writing about this “screwing” forever.
As Ben notes in his own article, this is how social insurance works. We all pay for each other’s stuff, and when it comes to benefits like medical care that old people rely upon more than young people, then young people end up paying for a bunch of stuff they don’t use … until they get old.
By the same logic, Democrats have been “screwing” young people for almost 50 years, by requiring workers to finance Medicare spending. Likewise, on closer inspection, the ACA is an even more devastating blow to young men than to young women, because it ends gender rating and thus represents an enormous transfer of wealth from men to women.
And yet young people, like almost all people, are huge fans of Medicare, and I predict they’ll be big fans of the ACA, too.
If the ACA were all downside for young people then I think it would be fair to ask why they remained so enthusiastic about Obama and Democrats in 2012. But of course it’s not. And presumably Obama’s supporters appreciate both the immediate and future benefits the law will provide them, along with the broader social good of reducing the ranks of the uninsured — even if they don’t like paying their premiums now, while they’re healthy. They realize that “youth” isn’t a fixed demographic, and that they’ll eventually age out of it.
But if you zoom in from the big picture of social insurance and take a more fine-grained look at the ACA specifically, you find that its authors took a lot of steps to mitigate the cross-subsidy effects for young people: They will be able to buy bare-bones insurance; older beneficiaries will pay up to three times as much for any given policy as young people; and young adults will be more generously subsidized than the elderly overall.
That last feature comes thanks in part to the wealthy - the one constituency that actually sort of does get “screwed” by the law. Unlike Medicare and Social Security, which are financed by a regressive tax on workers, the ACA will be financed largely by taxes on wealthy individuals and companies, and the benefits divvied up among low-and-middle income people who currently lack insurance. I strongly suspect that this redistributive effect is what’s really animating the conservatives promoting Ben’s article.
The irony is that if the ACA had been written to ensure more people had skin in the game, then the right’s problems with the law’s progressive nature wouldn’t exist. Yet only then would it have possibly merited a headline like “Obama Prepares To Screw His Base.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.