Krugman and the “Sneer Gap”

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Turn Around a Column in Half an Hour Using This One Weird Trick: In his Sunday column, Paul Krugman is characteristically nuanced and collegial in his critique of Republicans who predict Obamacare “sticker shock”:**

“All those claims about sticker shock, for example, come from obviously misleading comparisons. For example, supposed experts compare average insurance rates under the new system, which will cover everyone, with the rates currently paid by a handful of young, healthy people for bare-bones insurance.”

After reading Krugman, I turned to TNR‘s Jonathan Cohn, who discusses the same topic—in particular, he mentions the comparisons published by Avik Roy, who claims that more individuals will wind up paying more under Obamacare than will wind up paying less. (In part this would be because Obamacare requires that insurance policies now cover what the law deems “essential” benefits, including mental health benefits and drug abuse treatment.)

Faced with Roy’s claims, Cohn … takes them seriously. “No consensus exists” on the sticker shock issue, Cohn says, adopting a sensible ‘we’ll-know-soon-enough-who’s-right’ posture. Cohn notes that Roy’s analysis does attempt to correct for at least one of the flaws Krugman suggests afflict “supposed experts”–it estimates current costs for all individuals, not just the healthy ones. Roy also compares young people with other young people.

Executive Summary: Cohn analyzes, helpfully. Krugman sneers–inaccurately, it turns out.

But at least he didn’t do this in a column claiming that Democrats are superior “wonks” because Republicans have a “near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive.” … Oh wait. .. ****


**– The “sticker shock” issue focuses on individuals who buy insurance on their own and who will now be directed to Obamacare’s “exchanges.” These people are a minority of the insured–but the exchanges are the core institution of Obamacare, and more and more Americans may wind up using them in the future. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if they work.)

***–You can argue that if the cost rises because of these added features that the cost actually didn’t rise, since the insured are paying more but also getting more. Or you can argue that people have a beef if their premiums go up because they’re now required to buy mental health coverage they don’t want. But whether or not you agree with that beef  (‘But I don’t want a Lexus, just a Hyundai’)– the increased premiums are fairly described as “sticker shock.”

****–In fairness to Krugman, the column reads like he spent about 25 minutes writing it.  … The Krugman Curve: Less time = more sneering.

Mickey Kaus