EDITORIAL: Boosting costs was Obamacare plan all along

By now, the American people are quite acquainted with Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and Affordable Care Act architect Jonathan Gruber. And it’s safe to say they don’t care for him very much.

In a series of videos that surfaced after last month’s election — in which Democrats suffered a nationwide drubbing, in large part because of the unpopularity of Obamacare — Mr. Gruber explains that major parts of the health insurance overhaul were designed to hide the legislation’s true cost to Americans. During a 2013 panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Gruber explained that the American people were simply too dumb to understand the importance of the legislation.

“If you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money — it would not have passed,” he said. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”

In a Nov. 17 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Tevi Troy, president of the American Health Policy Institute and former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, said Mr. Gruber’s “stupidity” comment relates to the deceptive passage of the so-called “Cadillac” tax, which Mr. Gruber devised. Because of the tax, Obamacare, far from reducing premiums, will aggressively tax the plans of a growing number of Americans in the years ahead.

In one video, Mr. Gruber explains that his real goal was to reduce the tax breaks available to the roughly 170 million Americans who receive employer-sponsored health insurance. Lamenting that it would be hard to persuade Congress to reduce the tax breaks that help make insurance more affordable, Mr. Gruber instead advocated for the excise tax, which Mr. Troy described as “a stealthy way” to reduce the tax preference for health care without taking it away from employers.

Mr. Gruber said individual Americans would feel the real impact of the tax. “We just tax the insurance companies, they pass on higher prices that offsets the tax break we get, it ends up being the same thing,” he said. “It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”

In yet another video, Mr. Gruber explained that the only way to remove the tax preference for employee-sponsored insurance was “by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people, when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

The kicker? While it’s called a “Cadillac” tax, Mr. Gruber said that, over time, the tax will apply to more and more health insurance plans, affecting an increasing number of Americans who don’t have top-flight benefits.

If Obamacare hasn’t hurt your wallet yet, it soon will.

It’s worth noting that many economists — and most Republicans — spent 2009 warning that the Affordable Care Act was a ruse, that it would increase health insurance costs for most Americans, not cut them. They warned that Obamacare, far from allowing Americans to keep their existing plans and doctors, would wipe out the policies of millions of Americans and force them to find new providers. They warned that Obamacare was a massive transfer of wealth from the young and healthy to the old and sick.

Republicans no longer have to make the argument that Obamacare must, at a minimum, be dialed back, and preferably repealed outright. Mr. Gruber has done it for them.

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