by Kenneth Thomas
Conservative roots of Obamacare
The pile-on continues. As I discussed in February, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation wrote a breath-taking op-ed in USA Today (via Don Taylor) denying that he fathered the individual mandate. In fact, his revised 140-page research paper was published January 2, 1989, before President George HW Bush came into office, let alone President Clinton, whose proposals Butler says his research was directed against. Two conservatives, Avik Roy of Forbes and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, played strong roles in locking down the point that Butler was the first to propose the mandate.
Today, J.D. Kleinke of the American Enterprise Institute goes straight to that 1989 report in a New York Times opinion piece to once again lay the mandate at the feet of Heritage. And why not? According to him, the Affordable Care Act is a conservative’s dream.
The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an idea forged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today’s wants for tomorrow’s needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility — a hallmark of conservative thought.
Kleinke argues that Romney’s incoherence on health care stems precisely from rejecting his accomplishment in Massachusetts. Romney can’t offer anything better than the ACA because it is the only conservative way to overcome the problems of the health care market while remaining based on the market and individual responsibility. With no single payer and no public option, it is not surprising that, as he puts it, “the health insurance industry has been quietly supporting the plan all along.”
Aside from his odd notion that single payer represents a “government takeover of health care” (Canada’s Medicare is not the United Kingdom’s National Health Service), Kleinke’s column is on the money: historically, the mandate was developed by Heritage economists, the ACA more broadly relies on conservative rather than liberal principles, and many liberals have been unenthusiastic for just that reason.
Heck, I’m unenthusiastic (single payer!). But it’s a big improvement over the status quo that is already providing benefits to millions of people, whether for young adults, the millions of consumers getting rebates due to the medical loss ratio rule, or for seniors getting rid of the donut hole and gaining free preventive care.
crossposted with Middle Class Political Economist