[Posted by Karl]
[I]f the mandate won’t clamp down as hard on costs as its backers hoped, it also didn’t prove the political elixir some still believe it was, buying the myth is that the mandate effectively bought off the insurance industry.
The mandate “explains why the big insurers, while opposing the final legislation, never attacked it as vigorously as they did Bill Clinton’s ill-fated reform effort,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote this week.
Perhaps a stronger mandate would have soothed the insurers, providing them a guarantee of a big new market, but ObamaCare’s didn’t, and if they were quieter in that opposition, that was a tactical choice driven by the intense attacks on their industry.
In fact, Bloomberg News reported that the main insurance lobby, AHIP, quietly gave $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a slashing campaign against the plan. The contribution only became public the next fall.
At the risk of peeving Smith further, let’s review a lot of history Smith leaves out of his supposed “debunking.” AHIP was planning to buy into big-government health legislation as far back as 2006. The agenda of Big Insurance was consistent. The industry would accept regulations, including guaranteed issue and coverage of preexisting conditions, in return for the individual mandate, while opposing the inclusion of a “public plan” that would unfairly compete with the industry.
The Bloomberg piece Smith cites turns out to not say quite what he seems to think it says:
The Chamber got the money from the America’s Health Insurance Plans as the industry urged Congress to drop a plan to create a competing government-run insurance plan.
Yes, AHIP, like the Chamber, opposed the so-called “public option.” And if you look at the ad Bloomberg posted with the story, you will see it supported government action, but opposed the “public option” and an employer mandate. Anyone see what they did not oppose? Anyone? Ben Smith? Bueller? A “slashing” campaign this was not. The Chamber supported the individual mandate, as did AHIP.
The BuzzFeed story is likely correct that AHIP would have spent less if the individual mandate had been even more punitive, but after a summer of getting hazed by the public Congressional Democrats set about watering down the politically toxic mandate, even as they continued to push for the inclusion of the “public option.” AHIP spent not to defeat Obamacare, but to ensure the legislation conformed to conditions they would accept. Obama’s flip-flop on accepting the mandate was key to avoiding the total opposition Bill (and Hillary) Clinton faced from Big Insurance in 1993-94. Douthat is correct about that; Smith is the one dealing in myth.
Update: Ben Smith responds; I reply.