Harvard's ObamaCare hypocrisy
The school's policy experts are all for changing the health care system — until their own costs rise
William Buckley remarked more than once that he would rather trust the governance of the country to the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than to the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard. Buckley meant that remark to apply to academia in general, but decades later, Harvard itself has demonstrated the nonsensical elitism that Buckley skewered. When it comes to formulating public policy, the nation's most prestigious university has made it clear that it would much rather impose it on others than live with its consequences.
For the past five-plus years, Harvard's professors have both assisted the Obama administration in developing the Affordable Care Act and promoted its acceptance as a beneficial reform of the health insurance industry. In fact, the man who now serves as the provost of Harvard, Dr. Alan Garber, led an effort by economists to praise the cost-containment feature known as the Cadillac tax.
In a letter that the White House widely publicized, Garber and his fellow economists extolled the excise tax on high-coverage plans for its pressure on consumers to seek less access to medical care. They also predicted that the savings realized by employers that opted for lower-coverage plans would produce wage increases for workers amounting to $300 billion in the first decade of its imposition.
"This provision offers the most promising approach to reducing private-sector health care costs," they wrote in December 2009, "while also giving a much needed raise to the tens of millions of Americans who receive insurance through their employers." The signatories included four other Harvard faculty members: Dr. Katherine Baicker, Dr. David Cutler, Dr. Joseph Newhouse, and Dr. Meredith Rosenthal.
Now The New York Times reports that Harvard has suddenly lost its appetite for cost containment through price signaling — at least when the faculty is the intended recipient of those signals. Harvard has chosen to follow the incentives imposed by ObamaCare and curtail its own Cadillac-level coverage for employees, forcing them to pay deductibles and higher co-pays. That has Harvard crying foul, the Times' Robert Pear discovered.
Oddly, Harvard's faculty didn't seem concerned when this effort at cost containment was applied to everyone outside its hallowed halls. In fact, the faculty seems unaware of how good they still have it, compared to most of the rest of the country. The parameters of the new plan that raised so much ire look quite generous. The deductible is $250 per year for individuals and $750 for family coverage, and the co-pays for office visits are $20. It splits costs 90/10 until the out-of-pocket limit hits — a remarkably low $1500 for individuals and $4500 per family.
That generosity didn't make much difference to the faculty. Harvard classics professor Richard F. Thomas, an expert on Virgil, called the changes "a sign of the corporatization of the university." Mary Lewis, a history professor specializing in modern France, said the change was "a pay cut" rather than the wonderful opportunity for a cash wage increase her colleagues predicted five years ago. The cut would "be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed, or facing the challenges of becoming a new parent," she said.
What of the signatories to the December 2009 letter? Only Cutler and Rosenthal made appearances in Pear's report. Cutler defended the university as "very generous," which the plan itself supports, but didn't have much to say about the Cadillac tax itself. Rosenthal offered an oblique criticism of the Cadillac tax that she once endorsed. Calling it a blunt instrument, she told Pear that such pricing signals force consumers to "make choices that do not appear to be in their best interests in terms of their health."
Left unexplained is Rosenthal's public endorsement for precisely this method of cost control in December 2009. Oddly, Pear didn't mention Rosenthal's participation in that effort, although he did note Garber's leadership on it. The letter emerged as Democrats pushed ObamaCare through Congress over the objections of Republicans and the electorate, who saw through the nonsensical arguments of Garber and his colleagues. It helped convince Democrats to go all in on ObamaCare, even though few of them had even bothered to read the bill before voting for its final passage, let alone consider its consequences.
Clearly, that was the case at Harvard as well. Suddenly, Harvard's elite have grown disenchanted with the policy that they championed for everyone else now that their own ox is being gored. It provides quite an example of the hypocrisy often displayed by elitists, which is not usually demonstrated so publicly.
If the professors at Harvard couldn't see this coming, maybe the university should take a cue from Buckley and trust the delivery of education at the institution to the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book, too.