Rick’s mailbag: 'What bullsh**! My health care costs skyrocketed!'

Senior Columnist
Yahoo Finance

This was no surprise at all. I reported recently that overall health care spending moderated between 2008 and 2013, largely because of the deep recession that impelled people to rein in spending on practically everything.

“What bullshit!” wrote a reader named Thomas, from California. “My health care costs SKYROCKETED during Obama years.” He went on to explain how his premiums surged by 20% a year after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. He summed up with a vulgarity better left unpublished.

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I assume Thomas is right about his own health care situation. While overall health spending during those years rose by the smallest amount in years, there were exceptions—especially among people who don’t get insurance through an employer and have to buy a policy individually. I’ve written extensively about that intractable problem, as have other journalists.

I have two objections to Thomas’s complaint, which apply to a lot of other feedback I get from readers, on many topics:

  • There’s more going on than what you see around you. Yes, all politics is local, and your own pocketbook matters more than anybody else’s. But the job of policymakers is to think about what’s good for the greatest number of people, which can’t always be everybody. (That doesn’t mean policymakers necessarily do a good job.)

  • Everybody overpoliticizes everything. If you disliked President Obama, then chances are, you blame every problem involving health care and many other things on him, and credit him for nothing. If you dislike President Trump, the same goes—anything good he accomplishes must have been due to his predecessor, and anything bad that happens on his watch is purely his fault.

In reality, the U.S. economy is enormously complicated, and we give far too much credit to the power of the president to influence what happens. Health care costs have been rising far faster than inflation since the 1980s, with no president, so far, able to figure out a solution.

Healthcare.gov website. (AP Photo)
Healthcare.gov website. (AP Photo)

Two other interesting notes from readers on that health care story. A reader named Max, also from California, wrote to say, “I have always enjoyed your essays on health care…. Health care costs and interest on the national debt will eventually consume the entire federal budget.  What happens then?” Here’s my best guess: Congress will have no choice but to impose major tax hikes, which will probably cause a recession. Maybe a bad one.

Finally, a commenter going by “Bundy” wrote, “Simply have Congress give up their cushy, free, health care plan and force them to go onto the ACA and see how fast things change.”

Little-known fact: Members of Congress and their staffs actually do have to buy insurance through one of the ACA exchanges. But they generally get to choose from better plans than most ACA participants end up with, and Uncle Same pays about 75% of the cost. Still, that’s a sweetheart deal not available to most of the rest of us. Maybe they should have to live like the citizens they govern.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Encrypted communication available.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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