The Website Is only a Symptom

Daily Beast columnist and CNN contributor Sally Kohn took to Twitter on Monday with a triumphant message to Republicans.  “Once again, Republicans,” she tweeted, “if you’re [sic] biggest attack against Obamacare is the website,that’s a sign you’re losing the larger debate.”

Kohn’s tweet echoes a common theme among ObamaCare’s myriad media bulwarks like her-- a suggestion that criticism focusing on the technical issues experienced by the online ObamaCare exchanges is a sign of weakness in the public debate over healthcare.

On one level, it just seems like your typical spin, meant to turn the sour and toxic fruit of ObamaCare’s implementation into a bitter drink that can be choked down if you’re willing to just close your eyes, hold your nose, and chug with the Obama faithful.

It’s doubtful that it’ll be widely lapped up outside her more devoted readers, however.  President Obama’s flagship healthcare legislation now enjoys adismally low 26% approval rating, Democrats just suffered a substantial defeat in a Florida election that was all too obviously hinging upon the Democratic support of and Republican opposition to ObamaCare, and many Democrats in flyover country are, out of apparent necessity and in a desperate bid for survival, roundly distancing themselves from ObamaCare.  All reasons which would, for any reasonable person, suggest that Republicans are currently winning the largerhealthcare debate, not losing.

But we have to entertain the question.  Do Sally Kohn and her cohorts really have absolutely no idea what the opposition to ObamaCare is all about?  Do they really think all this public anxiety and anger is rooted in Republicans’ exploitation of the website’s gremlins?  Or do Sally Kohn and her cohorts know precisely why conservatives fundamentally oppose ObamaCare, but are in such dire straits that the magnificent failure of a federal insurance web-exchange (which cost taxpayers anywhere between $350 million and $1 billion to market and implement, depending on the estimate) is the least damaging point to focus upon in their defense of a nationalized healthcare marketplace?

If the former is true, and the left really thinks this objection and criticism is predicated upon the functionality of a website, that’s a pretty sad revelation, because we are obviously not operating on any mutual level of understanding in this “debate.”

Simply put, I completely understand Sally Kohn’s motivation for supporting ObamaCare.  She has a beef with greedy insurance companies peddling what she believes to be “shoddy” insurance policies that don’t cover “basic things insurance should cover.”  Naturally, exhibiting the classic modus operandi of the progressive social engineer, she trumpets her belief that it should be the federal government’s role to dictate and demand what “should” be covered by insurance companies, and force them to comply.  And among what they “should” be offering is unlimited coverage limits while employing premium caps, regardless of risk indicators like pre-existing conditions.  Obviously this is of no practical benefit to the insurers or the others in the risk pool whose premiums will increase as a result -- it’s just a necessary step toward the advancement of social justice.  She also thinks it silly and unfair if 26 year olds aren’t allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies, and that low-income adults should have subsidized healthcare policies, financed by the rich, or in less narrow terms, by those who can afford it.  Again, this added cost provides no practical benefit to the financiers (i.e., you), but the social value to be gained is off the charts, and far too high to entertain the objections of the people whose money our federal overseers have decided will provide the substance to back all of this philanthropy.

The point is, we conservatives understand all of that argument.  We just don’t agree with any of it. 

There is indeed a fundamental problem with contemporary health insurance practices in this country.  Health insurers have become entrenched as constant brokers in circumstances where insurance would be unnecessary if market dynamics were to prevail.  Ask yourself, why anyone needs insurance to visit the doctor when they have the flu, and why the insurance company is billed hundreds of dollars for that five-minute diagnosis and prescription? 

If the price of a simple doctor’s visit has become unmanageable without participation in a massively collectivized risk pool, something is indeed dreadfully wrong with basic healthcare delivery in this country. But the solution should be to facilitate open markets and competition which will drive down consumer costs, not double down on collectivized risk pooling which will further obscure both premium drivers and market pricing for healthcare services.  ObamaCare does the latter.

The real question is, why should insurers be necessary to acquire “basic” services, as Sally Kohn suggests?  If insurers were to provide coverage limited only to catastrophic risk, thereby narrowing insurance company liability and reducing customer premium, and if the government were to incentivize individual health saving so that fundamental healthcare and pharmaceutical transactions can be made transparently without any unnecessary brokers, healthcare costs could potentially decrease along with insurance premiums. 

This suggestion is simple, transparent, and reasonable -- and if simplicity, transparency, reason, or a reduction in costs or premiums were their goal, I think Sally Kohn and her clique might agree.  But that’s not their goal, and that’s why their solution is to add another broker (the government) to help facilitate healthcare transactions behind an even more obscure shroud of bureaucratic regulations, which will only ensure rising real transactional costs between A (you) and B (your doctor), however concealed those costs might be.

They support increased obscurity and a government brokerage house because it facilitates the real endgame behind all the progressive rhetoric about transparency and cost savings to Americans.  Federal regulation of healthcare, such as mandating that insurance costs be uncorrelated to high-risk individuals and requiring that insurers take on unlimited liability as a minimum standard, streamlines private insurance companies into practices that make it a vehicle for the redistribution of wealth.  It is very much by design that premiums will necessarily rise for those who represent less risk and/or can afford it so that premiums can be subsidized for those who represent more risk and/or cannot afford it.

There’s nothing pragmatic about that, and everything about it is ideological. 

The lack of functionality in the online exchanges is an issue, make no mistake.  Frankly, the fact that ObamaCare’s supporters don’t seem to think so is pretty disturbing.  The implementation of Oregon’s online insurance exchange, for example, has cost taxpayers $170 million so far, but “applicants still can’t buy coverage online.”  Maryland spent $125.5 million of public wealth, and is mulling a complete “do-over of its health insurance website” modeled after Connecticut’s.That’s a pretty lousy return on the investment. And again, in terms of the overall cost, some estimates suggest that the implementation of the ObamaCare exchanges came with a taxpayer price tag well in excess of $1 billion.  It’s hardly unreasonable to think such investment would yield a functioning website which can smoothly process the selection and purchase of health insurance -- a relatively simple transaction that millions of Americans were able to manage without the government’s help and with little grief not so long ago. 

So just to be clear, we conservatives point to the website and other woes associated with the healthcare exchanges simply because they are easily discernible symptoms of ObamaCare, which we view as a voracious disease that not only corrodes the very notion of limited government and free markets that we cherish, but undermines our inherent property rights.

In fact, our grievance against this president is eerily similar to that which Thomas Jefferson once voiced against King George III in the Declaration of Independence: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

Sounds about right.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.