Friday, December 06, 2013


Bet Your Bottom Dollar

Ryan Cooper, about whom I know nothing other than he, like Greg Sargent, blogs at the Washington Post, puts on the red dress and the curly red fright wig and belts out Tomorrow karaoke style, as he wishes hopes and believes that, goshdarn it, young people will too sign up for Obamacare, they just gotta!

He has his reasons.

1) Young people are not actually invincible, he writes, and when they get really sick, like someone he knows in the White House, they'll sign up (and they'll be able to because of the rule for no turn downs for pre-existing conditions). The problem with only signing up once you're really sick is that you instantly become a burden on the system rather than being a benefit to it by paying for insurance you may not actually need. To the extent that Obamacare transfers wealth, it depends on transferring it from young, generally poorer people to old, generally richer people. That doesn't seem very fair. So it only helps if the young people paying more than their fair share are healthy and rarely use the actual health care. So this 'vincibility' is no help to the train wreck legislation. Obamacare needs the under-utilizers of health care to pay a lot into the system. That's what makes it work, at least in theory.

2) Going without insurance is morally wrong. OK, let me stop laughing. That's not going to persuade a lot of millennials, who are pretty much shameless and proud of it. They won't sign up if they can't afford it, even with federal deficit spending to help pay for it. And if they can't go out drinking etc., and afford health insurance, they'll skip the insurance That's why a lot of them don't get health care now. In a second of clarity, Cooper writes:

This one doesn’t carry much weight yet...

Gee. Ya' think? But then he immediately resorts to magical thinking again:

Getting insurance will be part of living in a decent society where everyone chips in when they can afford it, and free-riding is frowned upon — and over time, young people will come to see this as part of being a responsible citizen.
Kind of important caveat--"when they can afford it." Free-riding is frowned upon? Does Ryan even know any 20 somethings? They don't frown on free-riding; they want to learn how they can get in on the free-riding. They really don't want to be responsible citizens, for that is the death of being cool (or whatever term they use for cool now). OK, don't have any liquid in your mouth when you read the next reason.

3) It’s the law. Law of the Land! But that and 10 pennies will get you about a dime these days. I'm not saying that young hipster types disobey the law for kicks (or whatever term they use for kicks now). Nor do I think they are stupid. But if the punishment is less than the cost of getting health insurance which they can't afford and don't really feel is all that necessary, they'll risk the punishment; and the punishment under the law of the land is pitifully small and difficult to administer. This argument, such that it is, will convince very few millennials.

4) People haven’t grasped how the subsidies work yet. But, goshdarn it, as soon as the morally upstanding, law abiding young adults learn that other people are partially paying for their insurance, they'll just come a-runnin'. They gotta'. Maybe? But, probably not. Of course deficit spending subsidies are all going on the millennials' national debt bar bill, so this might not be too persuasive to the politically savvy youngsters. However, the price the poor but healthy young will have to pay to subsidize the rich but decrepit seniors will be so high that even generous stipends will not reduce the cost to a generally affordable range; and we're back to hoping, with starry-eyed Mr. Cooper, that a general ability for the young to afford it will somehow magically show up. Since the 18-27 age group suffers 38% underemployment, this magical thinking seems a particular stretch of imagination.

5) Pressure from mom and dad. I'm laughing again, but only because I am a parent of three millennials. I am sure Mr. Cooper has never seen the interplay between normal college grad children and their parents, otherwise he would not have dared to write such drivel. Moral authority, legal authority, parental authority--yeah, these are Obamacare's aces in the hole. And when you're young and asset-less, bankruptcy isn't as scary as it is to those with something actually to lose.

6) Being uninsured sucks! This guy should write for Portlandia or something! Maybe It's Always Sunny... (which has a more realistic portrayal of older millenials than Cooper has here). Come on, guys, goshdarn it, you just gotta get health insurance! Listen, if the 20 somethings can withstand their parent's constant nagging, they can probably withstand the tiny Jiminy Cricket* voice they don't really hear. It only sucks, however, if you get hurt or sick and then it's not so bad if you're, like most of them, pretty freakin' poor. What really sucks is paying a lot for something you may never need or use. It's rare you see so long a period of unabashed, magical thinking as Mr. Cooper displays her.

Then Mr. Cooper reveals why he is capable of such self-delusion; he tells us he's only 27. And the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place and we older readers know the source of his wishing and hoping. He's too young to know any better (not stupid, inexperienced). Now, how can I say I know more about 20 somethings than a 20 something? Because I'm outside looking in and Mr. Cooper is stuck in the kaleidoscope of the group and I have first hand knowledge of history Mr. Cooper only seems dimly aware of. But he's not done yet--the big finish:

Finally, the White House has a long time to bring about this change. As Ezra Klein usefully details, Obamacare has many fail-safes built in to keep the system going for a couple years at least even if young people stay away en masse at first. Eventually, young people will forget they ever worried about Obamacare, and buying health insurance (if you don’t get it through work) will be part of becoming a full-fledged adult.

They just gotta grow up! If this is its best case scenario, Obamacare is doomed indeed.

Listen, there are a lot of college age people out there who can't wait to quit the shallow, sybaritic lifestyle and start making real money through hard work and rational risk taking. Unfortunately, those people think like Rush Limbaugh and won't support Obamacare on principle. The vast majority, however, who are prolonging their adolescence into their thirties, who are putting off careers, marriage, responsibility and all the other trappings of "full-fledged" adulthood, and who really like the shallow sybaritic lifestyle, they're just not going to be able to afford Obamacare. End of story.

*Disney character in Pinocchio who was the conscience of the wooden boy. I doubt Mr. Cooper has seen it.

UPDATE: James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal on line takes on the less than formidable arguments of young Ryan Cooper here. Money quotes:

But "It's the law" overstates the case. "People hate paying fines and generally prefer to follow the rules, even if it would be cheaper to do [sic] pay the fine rather than pick up insurance," Cooper writes. But the Supreme Court held, in NFIB v. Sebelius, that the "fine" is actually only a tax. It is no more a violation of the rules to forgo insurance and pay the tax than it is to rent a home or buy one with cash and forgo the mortgage-interest deduction.

It's also true that people with "lower" incomes--i.e., up to four times the poverty line--are eligible for subsidies, which will make buying insurance more attractive for some young adults than it would be if they were paying the full price-controlled cost. But to the extent that subsidies induce young people to become insured, that just shifts the burden to future taxpayers by requiring the federal government to borrow money. Some will also enroll in Medicaid, which won't improve the insurance pool at all and will actually worsen it if the new welfare cases previously had private insurance.

We mean....merely to observe that the habits of responsibility are often poorly developed in the young. They also are less likely to have the financial wherewithal to support responsible habits. They have less income to pay for insurance as well as less wealth to worry about losing should catastrophe strike.

One final objection. Read over Cooper's list again and ask yourself: Is that kind of stern exhortation what they signed up for when they voted for Obama in such large numbers? No, they were attracted by his glamour and his vague idealism. To the extent that they favored ObamaCare in concept, it was because they liked the idea of "helping people," not punishing them. Much less submitting themselves to be punished.


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