It’s been a bad few weeks for Obamacare. Then again, you could pretty much say that about any three-week period since the law has gone into effect. But even under that revised rubric, it’s been a particularly dismal time, especially for some of the die-hard faithful who have been caught speaking out of both sides of their mouths.
The problems revolve around the DC Circuit Court ruling in Halbig vs. Sebelius, which found that the plain reading of the Affordable Care Act prevented subsidies from being offered in states that didn’t set up their own health insurance exchanges.
The left-leaning pundits and architects of the law immediately went to work to discredit the court’s interpretation. Jonathan Gruber, who Senate Democrats leaned on to write much of the law, called the legal theory behind the decision a “screwy interpretation.” “It’s nutty. It’s stupid,” he says. And beyond that, the proponents of the argument are simply “desperate.”
Then, as it turned out, videos surfaced of Gruber making the same “screwy interpretation” as Halbig. In 2012, Gruber told an audience that, “[I]f you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”
Liberal writer and star-Obamacare reporter Jonathan Cohn immediately leapt to Gruber’s aid.
“Like other journalists who were following the process closely, I never heard any of them suggest subsidies would not be available in states where officials decided not to operate their own marketplaces – a big deal that, surely, would have come up in conversation,” Cohn writes in defense of Gruber.
And even though Gruber was caught in a web of his own words, Cohn was nonplussed. Nothing would change his mind that subsidies were not just meant for states that set up their own exchanges.
“[I]t doesn’t change my view that the architects of Obamacare wanted everybody to have subsidies, no matter what decision their state officials made about the marketplaces,” Cohn wrote.
Except that wasn’t always Cohn’s view. Internet-savvy sleuths were able to dig up an old quote, this time from Cohn making the same legal argument that served as the foundation for Halbig – that states could opt out of exchanges, but wouldn’t because of the financial incentives dangled by the federal government:
“Basically, where a state could opt out of the exchanges, I find it hard to believe a state would actually do that. You know, it’s — if you think about the history of these sorts of things, Medicaid was set up and is, remains, an optional program for states. States can opt out of Medicaid if they want to.
They don’t because there’s a lot of federal money they are entitled to if they participate in Medicaid. In addition to that, it helps them cover poor people in their state, and if they don’t get that money from Medicaid, they’re going to be totally responsible for this on their own.
I can’t possibly imagine a state opting out of an insurance exchange, given it’s a good deal for the state.”
Thus far, Cohn has been unable to explain his dramatic reversal on the issue.
“I wish I could tell you definitively what I was thinking at the time but, more than four years later, I truly don’t know,” was the best defense he’s offered up so far.
Pundits may not know what they were thinking when describing the clear meaning of the law, but voters’ opinions are beginning to crystallize. A new Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that the tide of public opinion is turning hard and fast in opposition to the law.
In the last month, the survey found an eight percent increase in unfavorable views of the law (from 45 to 53 percent) and a two-point drop in favorability (from 39 to 37 percent). According to the poll the percent of Americans with an unfavorable view of the law has reached a historic high, and the gap between positive and negative views is at it’s widest.
If this poll holds true this could be a disaster for Democrats come November. But unlike the court’s finding in Halbig, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point…liberal pundits included.