Millions of Americans have been getting health insurance cancellations due to Affordable Care Act regulations that prevented the “grandfathering” of their previous policies, despite the president’s repeated claims that folks could keep their plans if they like them. How are ACA supporters explaining this untruth? Well, curiously, some are offering a version of this response: These folks will be getting better coverage than their old “Acme” bad-apple policy. Huzzah!
Or, let me put it another way: Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. A rough translation: “Let them eat cake.”
That’s the apocryphal response of Queen Marie Antoinette, of course, to the news that her subjects wanted bread. The president and his acolytes seem to be saying the same thing to people who wanted the simple “bread” policies they had before. No, no, cry these ACA fans. Let them eat cake!
I’m not here to defend some of these policies. For most people, they represented a real roll of the dice. With high deductibles, low premiums, and lots of limitations on payouts, they could result in bad financial outcomes for those who held them. Nonetheless, they represented a calculated risk for, say, young and healthy graduates. We bought one for our daughter after she left college when she worked at a low-paying, no-benefits fellowship before securing full-time employment. (We found this policy on an easy-to navigate website, by the way — ehealthinsurance.com) It seemed like a reasonable risk.
If they’re not without risk, they were valued. They were the bread people needed to sustain them when they couldn’t afford and didn’t want cake.
If Democrats felt so strongly about changing these policies’ practices, they could have campaigned on that. Instead of promising over and over again that “if you like your (plain bread) policy, you can keep it,” they could have pitched the ACA with “we’ll replace junk plans with policies you’ll want to keep,” or some other finessed messaging.
They didn’t do that, though. The president, in particular, simply lied. Now we have the spectacle of the president and other Democrats arguing that people who had these policies obviously didn’t know what they had or didn’t know what they wanted or, to quote Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, “whatever.”
It befuddles me how they think this kind of explanation is a winning strategy. Even those who do manage to find a decent deal through the ACA might still bristle at an implicit message that they’re too stupid to know what’s good for them or what they really wanted.
Astute Democrats have figured that out. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is introducing a bill that would allow Americans to keep insurance policies they liked. She probably remembers that the “let them eat cake” approach doesn’t end well.
As for the rest of them, I feel like cheering them on. Keep it up, my liberal friends! Keep telling Americans who wanted plain-bread policies that they should be happy to go for the brioche. Come election time, perhaps your “subjects” will answer with their own cry: Off with your heads!
Libby Sternberg is a novelist. You can follow her on twitter @LibbysBooks