The bailout meme serves the left more than the right

Jon Cohn is predicting that we’ll be hearing the risk corridor program characterized as a bailout of the insurance industry through the 2014 campaign season.

Republicans and their allies are still insisting that a key Obamacare provision amounts to a taxpayer-funded “bailout” of the insurance industry. And now they may demand its repeal in exchange for giving the U.S. Treasury authority to borrow money and pay the government’s bills.

The provision is called the “risk corridor” program. And while it’s unclear whether Republicans are really willing to have another showdown over the debt ceiling, it’s clear they intend to keep making the “bailout” argument—right up through the midterm elections.

For a variety of reasons that Cohn lists, it’s far from an airtight argument. (See also Galen Benshoof’s TIE post.)

Were I making the bailout argument, I’d be a bit worried about something else: Many on the left consider the entire concept of expanding coverage through private insurers (and even the pre-ACA existing insurance regime) a giveaway to the insurance industry. This begins or supports the ambition for single payer. Why do we need a middleman skimming profits and adding administrative complexity and cost anyway, the thinking goes? The idea that we’re propping up or bailing out insurers is one that is likely to resonate at least as much on the left as on the right.

(Which side has been more supportive of higher payments for Medicare Advantage plans and of Medicare Part D, which also has a risk corridor program, after all?)

These are not my arguments, but I do hear them. Thinking long-term, attacking Obamacare from the right in this way could easily help further the health policy agenda of the left. As many smart people have already pointed out, Obamacare is a good platform for a rightward, not leftward, evolution of health policy. It’s not hard to conclude that the bailout meme, like the repeal one, is attractive for its value as campaign rhetoric, but has little to do with policy preferences or governing.

Wake me up when the grownups–who are constantly claiming to want an “adult conversation”–return to the microphone. I expect it’ll be a long hibernation.


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