The irony of ObamaCare: How liberals came to love Big Business

When it comes to health care, liberals are more than willing to celebrate corporate profits

The price of exposure.
(Image credit: Ikon Images/Corbis)

It's not every day that Mother Jones describes a policy as effective because corporate America says so. ObamaCare seems to be an exception to the rule.

"If getting rid of ObamaCare is such a good idea," asks reporter Stephanie Mencimer, "why isn't corporate America getting behind King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court case designed to demolish the Affordable Care Act?"

Indeed, the piece not only notes the lack of big business support for King, but also emphasizes that the Hospital Corporation of America is on the administration's side.

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For once, liberals are arguing that a surge in corporate profits is proof that a law is working. Cue Mitt Romney: corporations are people, my friend.

But industry support for ObamaCare shouldn't be surprising. Mandating and subsidizing the purchase of health insurance is just one of the ways it benefits companies, not just consumers. The only reason this is news is because of the conventional wisdom that ObamaCare stuck it to the man at big health insurance companies, a misconception that President Obama has found politically useful to reinforce. His law, he says, means "insurance companies can't jerk you around."

In the run-up to passing ObamaCare, the president also told "the story of hardworking Americans who are held hostage by health insurance companies."

But as The New York Times has reported, "Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the relationship between the Obama administration and insurers has evolved into a powerful, mutually beneficial partnership that has been a boon to the nation’s largest private health plans and led to a profitable surge in their Medicaid enrollment."

Under ObamaCare, "share prices for four of the major insurance companies — Aetna, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealth — have more than doubled, while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has increased about 70 percent."

Even before the law was passed, insurance companies successfully opposed the government-run public option, but were on board with a lot of other provisions that meant more money and customers for their product.

"Health insurers supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and were one of the key constituencies consulted when policymakers crafted the legislation," notes Modern Healthcare in a report on the health insurance stock boom.

America's Health Insurance Plans and BlueCross BlueShield Association both supported the individual mandate and guaranteed issue for people with preexisting conditions as far back as 2008.

You can go all the way back to the debate over Hillary Clinton's health care plan in 1993-94. Insurers were not universally opposed, especially HMOs. The bigger insurers were frequently open to a larger government role, while the smaller and medium-sized insurers were more likely to be against HillaryCare.

The original 1993 "Harry and Louise" ads that helped scuttle the Clinton health plan were paid for by the Health Insurance Association. But as The New York Times reported in May of that year, Prudential, Cigna, Aetna, Metropolitan Life, and Travelers had formed their own more administration-friendly Coalition for Managed Competition.

The Grey Lady went on to note that some of the proposed reforms would "come as a tremendous boon to the industry's giants." The big five insurance companies of the time and Blue Cross/Blue Shield actually had a place at the table as the health care law was being drafted.

When the Harry and Louise ad campaign was reprised in 2009, this time the couple was for ObamaCare and it was paid for by PhRMA, the pharmaceutical lobby. In fact, pharmaceutical companies spent over $150 million on advertising to get the law passed, a fraction of the profits they reaped.

Hospital lobbyists have played a big role in promoting ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, even in states with conservative Republican governors. The hospitals helped get Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, both possible 2016 GOP presidential candidates, to sign on.

That's not to say there aren't any ordinary people who have benefited from ObamaCare. Undeniably, many have. As Republicans debate conservative ObamaCare alternatives, how to take care of newly covered people is one of the most contentious issues.

But if almost any other law was being defended by big companies seeking to protect their profits, you can bet Mother Jones would oppose it.

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W. James Antle III

W. James Antle III is the politics editor of the Washington Examiner, the former editor of The American Conservative, and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?.