Rush Limbaugh was wrong: Americans did want health insurance.

Catch of the Day: Obamacare Fails That Weren't

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Catch goes to the terrific health-care reporter Sarah Kliff, who looks back at seven predicted Obamacare disasters that didn't happen.

My favorite, second on her list, is "Even if the website works, nobody wants to buy Obamacare." She cites Rush Limbaugh, but this was a widespread prediction during the winter. As a group, Republicans convinced themselves that people didn't actually want health insurance. Perhaps this idea was the result of years of calling the individual mandate a horrible affront to freedom. Perhaps it was just a consequence of desperately wanting the Affordable Care Act to fail.

It showed up in many ways beyond the predictions that no one would buy insurance on a (functioning) Healthcare.com. For example, there was a surge in commentary about how horrible it was that Obamacare would force people to get comprehensive insurance when most people only wanted high-deductible catastrophic coverage, a conclusion that defied both survey research and the behavior of consumers. (Not to mention the concurrent complaints that the problem with Obamacare was the high deductibles, which probably resonated more with most real-world consumers.) And then there was the campaign to convince young people they shouldn't buy health insurance; presumably this followed from the idea that they didn't want to be covered.

Another part of it probably was plain ignorance of the law. Because of the subsidies, which reach into middle-class income ranges, insurance on the exchanges is a great deal for many people on the individual market, at least compared with what was available in the bad old days. Indeed, the talking point that has replaced "the exchanges are going to fail" is "sure, it's easy to get people insured when they don't have to pay for it." That's more accurate (though it misses the point that setting up a functioning market for individual purchasers is a big change that, in the long run, could help everyone, subsidized or not. Markets are powerful, but in many cases they don't emerge spontaneously).

At any rate, I agree with Paul Krugman that partisanship and closed information loops will mean that those who got it wrong won't pause to figure out why.

And now for the usual caveats. Not all critics got it wrong, and not all ignored the successes. And severe skepticism of White House pronouncements is a very good thing, as long as the skepticism remains reality-based. Also, just because ACA opponents (and people in the "neutral" press) were wrong about the imminent collapse of the program doesn't mean they are necessarily wrong in other criticisms. Things could still go terribly wrong (implementation is in early days). More basically, even if Obamacare winds up working more or less exactly as proponents expected, it doesn't necessarily mean it was a wise choice. And I continue to believe both that Obamacare will remain unpopular and that it is politically (and technically) impossible to repeal it.

All that said ... a whole bunch of people made clear predictions and definitive claims that were 100 percent wrong. So nice catch!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net