Henry Aaron says suck it up: health insurance cancellation update

Via Brad DeLong, here is Aaron:

Rather than apologizing for these cancellations, [the administration] should be bragging about them…. Imagine a new law enacted to promote food purity. As it is being debated, you are told ‘if you like what you eat, you can keep on eating it.’ The new law takes effect, and one day you find that the market no longer carries certain foods you have been buying… [which] included elements found to be bad for your health. The pure food act barred their use.

…People should be no more shocked when substandard insurance plans are removed from the market than they would be if food purity legislation caused some products to be removed from a grocer’s shelf….Obamacare is removing insurance products from the market that are bad for your health.

I am a big fan of Henry Aaron, but I see this response as representing a miscalculation and also showing a tin ear to the ongoing worries.  I suppose I would not put Henry in charge of marketing.  I have a few questions:

1. How many of the cancelled people are already receiving treatment from preferred specialists, doctors, hospitals, and so on?  They are in any case the most important “subjects.”

2. How many of these people know that their new policies (if and when they can get them) will cover the same providers?  How can these people find out that information — now — in an easily verified manner?  And if they have to switch providers, how long will it take before their previous treatments are back up and running at an acceptable level?  What kind of publicly available information is available on this question?  Might their current providers start neglecting them, even before coverage is up, figuring they are “out the door” in any case?

3. How high is the anxiety level of these patients in the meantime?  And must they feel they are getting a better deal from the new law, once they have shed their previous “substandard” treatments and providers?  How confident should those patients feel about any promises being made to them right now?  How should they feel about Aaron’s proposal for Obama administration boasting?

4. Why is Aaron so convinced that the new policies will involve no negative trade-offs?

5. We hear so much about behavioral economics, and rightly so.  Doesn’t it teach us that endowment effects and status quo bias are very strong?  Or are those always feelings we should be forcing people to overcome?

6. Are the best French unpasteurized cheeses — which do carry some health risk — “substandard”?  Or is there an offsetting benefit?  How about sushi?  How about beans?  They are delicious and good for your health.  How about a more modest mandate for ACA?  How about a stronger grandfather clause?

I thank Megan McArdle for a useful conversation related to this post.

Addendum: Via Wonkbook, here is one relevant report:

“Many new health exchanges don’t yet let shoppers see which doctors accept which insurance plans. Where exchanges do post the so-called provider lists, they often contain inaccurate or misleading information, some doctors say, including wrong specialties, addresses and language skills, and no indication whether providers are accepting new patients. Exchange officials blame the insurance industry, where inaccurate and out-of-date provider lists are nothing new. “I don’t think we realized that the underlying data had quite this number of problems. Now, it’s becoming more transparent,” said Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s secretary of health and the chairman of its exchange…[I]n addition to providing wrong information, the lists may give consumers a false impression of how big the networks are, some physicians say.” Melinda Beck in The Wall Street Journal.


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