Saturday, October 14, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he was slashing CSR payments in support of low- and middle-income health insurance to lower stock prices, and then promptly got called a liar by a surrogate.

Trump seems to be attempting to position himself as the savior of health insurance consuming Americans by casting Obamacare as corporate welfare for insurance companies. He bragged today on Twitter that his cuts to CSR payments, the threat of which has already raised premiums, had hurt stock prices. (Trump usually sees higher stock prices as direct evidence that he has solved the United States' economic problems.) 

Indeed, health insurance company stocks were broadly lower on Friday--"plunging" all the way to their prices of September 29th. The reason that they didn't go lower was that insurance companies will not really be hurt by the premium increases forced by the cancellation of CSR payments: those will be passed along to policyholders. 

There are consequences to destabilizing the private health insurance industry: unless the United States adopts a single-payer system like most of the rest of the industrialized world, it must exist since hospital bills are usually much more than most Americans can afford in any given month. (Trump sometimes seems to think he is in favor of single-payer, but is usually quickly corrected.) 

That said, the real purpose behind Trump's CSR policy change is sabotage--according to his former campaign strategist and senior advisor Steve Bannon. Bannon addressed the "Values Voters Summit" today, commenting on the move: "Not gonna make the CSR payments, gonna blow that thing up, gonna blow those exchanges up, right?" Bannon's assessment is the first such admission from a Trump surrogate, but it has been the conventional wisdom among health care policy experts all along. 

Why does this matter?

  • There's basically no reason for a president to ever celebrate hurting any sector of the American economy.
  • There's even less reason to do so when what the president is hurting is not a sector of the economy but the economic stability of Americans themselves. 
  • It's wrong for a president to sabotage major elements of domestic policy just so that he can blame the situation on his predecessor.