Fans Lose Plan

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 8, 2013

The following is an excerpt from’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

Fan Loses Plan 
The left-liberal journalism nonprofit has a juicy ObamaCare horror story by reporter Charles Ornstein:

San Francisco architect Lee Hammack says he and his wife, JoEllen Brothers, are “cradle Democrats.” They have donated to the liberal group Organizing for America and worked the phone banks a year ago for President Obama’s re-election. . . .

The couple–Lee, 60, and JoEllen, 59–have been paying $550 a month for their health coverage–a plan that offers solid coverage, not one of the skimpy plans Obama has criticized. But recently, Kaiser informed them the plan would be canceled at the end of the year because it did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The couple would need to find another one. The cost would be around double what they pay now, but the benefits would be worse.

“From all of the sob stories I’ve heard and read, ours is the most extreme,” Lee told me in an email last week.

Ornstein then chimes in with this disclaimer: “I’ve been skeptical about media stories featuring those who claimed they would be worse off because their insurance policies were being canceled on account of the ACA.” Interesting that his first instinct is to assume the politicians are telling the truth.

The story concludes by pointing to a perverse incentive of ObamaCare, though it isn’t clear if either Ornstein or Mr. Hammack recognizes the perversity:

So what is Hammack going to do? If his income were to fall below four times the federal poverty level, or about $62,000 for a family of two, he would qualify for subsidies that could lower his premium cost to as low as zero. If he makes even one dollar more, he gets nothing.

That’s what he’s leaning toward–lowering his salary or shifting more money toward a retirement account and applying for a subsidy.

“We’re not changing our views because of this situation, but it hurt to hear Obama saying, just the other day, that if our plan has been dropped it’s because it wasn’t any good, and our costs would go up only slightly,” he said. “We’re gratified that the press is on the case, but frustrated that the stewards of the ACA don’t seem to have heard.”

Meanwhile, Byron York of the Washington Examiner frames the question this way:

The key to Obamacare’s success or failure–provided the administration can actually learn to operate the system–is whether it helps more people than it hurts, or hurts more people than it helps.

York makes a good case that it’s likely to hurt more people than it helps, but we’re unconvinced that his analytical framework is the right one. York’s “key” amounts to the philosophy of utilitarianism–the view that what is right (or in this case “success”) is what produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

That idea seems appealing in the abstract, but it’s not hard to think of examples in which utilitarian calculations produce monstrous results. Suppose the mayor of an American town embezzles public funds and uses them to fund a charity providing food to children in the Third World. Even if the beneficiaries of such largess are more numerous and more needful than the townspeople, it would be hard to argue that the scheme was justified. Similarly, it seems to us that the fraud at ObamaCare’s core is a moral outrage even if there end up being more beneficiaries than victims.

York presumably has in mind a political, not a moral, test of “success or failure.” But even there, it seems to us that the combination of dishonesty and widespread infliction of pain may make it a failure even if it ends up benefiting more people than it hurts or kills.

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