A seriousness health policy guide

If you want a good guide for whether to take an argument about health policy seriously, just see if the writer says something like this:

In March of 2010 the Democratic Speaker of the House said, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.” She was referring to the now infamous Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare. Only a privileged few had a clue what was in this massive bill then and the rest of us are still finding out. [Source]

That sort of statement is a clear guide that the author either knows little about the process that produced the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or knows what happened but is not being honest.

That sort of statement implies that Pelosi was referring to a bill that wasn’t public for quite awhile. In fact, the Affordable Care Act had been on-line and there were numerous analyses that referred to particular sections of the bills at certain page numbers. There was no secret bill.

The ACA was signed by President Obama on March 23, 2010, after being passed by the House on March 21, 2010 and having passed the Senate on December 24, 2009. In other words, the bill signed in late March was the version passed three months before.

What Pelosi was saying, however inartfully, was that most people were unaware of a number of provisions in the bill.  As numerous polls have shown, that’s clearly true. For example, many people don’t know about restrictions on insurance companies that require them to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions. Pelosi believed that when people learned about those provisions, support for the ACA would increase.

This false interpretation of Pelosi’s work, this time by a Maine elected official, has been systematically spread. It’s become an element of what political scientist Murray Edelman called “symbolic politics,” a statement or situation that is made to represent a set of emotions and ideas. In this case, it stands for the view that something illegitimate went on in the passage of the ACA. The process in fact was not unusual and it’s rather sad to see elected officials spread this trope.

Now, the rest of the piece is no better. It’s wrong on costs, which in fact are estimated to come in lower for the same period of time. The claim that the cost “nearly doubled” is based on comparing two different periods of time — a case of apples and oranges.

And instead of using data on exchanges from reality (i.e., Massachusetts) or systematic studies, the op-ed’s claims about them are highly rhetorical. Not surprisingly, there is no acknowledgement that the ACA is based on the proposals of conservative think tanks.

But frankly, while those errors are there, too, simply the misreading of what Speaker Pelsoi said is enough to tell you the analysis betrays a lack of seriousness.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.