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Avik Roy, I’m told, is one of the good conservatives. He may oppose liberal expansion of the welfare state, but he knows his brief and makes honest arguments.
As it happens, I haven’t read much of Roy’s stuff. But I’ve come across him twice in the past couple of months. First, he was on Chris Hayes’ show, where he offered up a criticism of Social Security’s disability program that was so misleading that Michael Astrue, a former commissioner of the Social Security Administration appointed by George Bush, nearly had a heart attack on the air. Roy eventually had to retreat to a criticism of Britain’s disability program, which, as Astrue pointed out, had nothing to do with America’s, which had long since dealt with the problems he was talking about.
Strike one. Then a few days ago, Roy wrote a piece about health insurance prices on California’s Obamacare exchange. His headline charge was that rates in the individual market were going up 146 percent. How did he come up with this? By powering up his browser and getting a couple of teaser quotes from eHealthInsurance.com for the youngest, healthiest consumers buying a plan with enormous copays. This is so misleading that it’s hard to believe it was offered in good faith.
But there’s more: nothing about this is unexpected. Under Obamacare, insurance companies have to offer coverage to everyone at similar rates. This means that some people will see their rates go up and some will see them go down. In particular, the youngest, healthiest customers will probably pay more, while older, less healthy customers will pay less. You may think this is terrible (I don’t), but it’s the way social insurance works, and it’s been acknowledged as part of Obamacare from the beginning.
So to recap: Roy pulled up some bogus quotes; didn’t acknowledge that rates will go down for some people; and didn’t bother mentioning that Obamacare’s subsidies will lower rates further for those on limited incomes, including plenty of young people. The normally mild-mannered Jon Cohn was finally driven (almost) into shrillness by all this:
Roy never acknowledged that, even as young and healthy people would have to face higher premiums, older and sicker people would face lower premiums. He said absolutely nothing—not a single word!—about the federal subsidies available to people with incomes below 400 percent of the poverty line. (That’s about $46,000 a year for a single adult, or $94,000 for a family of four.) This has been a pattern with his writing and, unfortunately, much of what I read on the right.
….While all of us are susceptible to hyperbole or selective intepretation from time to time, Roy’s column was something else entirely. He plucked out two examples of people who would pay more in California, pretended they were emblematic of the system as a whole, then accused other writers of being irresponsible. His argument hasn’t held up well to scrutiny, but it’s part of the political conversation and, I’m sure, will remain so for a while.
In his follow-up post today, Roy says “we’re finally having the intellectually honest argument about Obamacare that we should have been having all along.” If only that were true.
Strike two. More here from Ezra Klein.