Single Tear: Harvard Faculty Upset Over Obamacare's Impact

Posted: Jan 06, 2015 2:30 PM

Fresh from the schadenfreude file, (deliciously) via the New York Times:

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar. Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed. The faculty vote came too late to stop the cost increases from taking effect this month, and the anger on campus remains focused on questions that are agitating many workplaces: How should the burden of health costs be shared by employers and employees? If employees have to bear more of the cost, will they skimp on medically necessary care, curtail the use of less valuable services, or both?

Indeed, 96 percent of political contributions from Ivy League professors in the 2012 presidential election went to Barack Obama -- the man whose signature policy is now raising hackles of the beleaguered Harvard staff.  Until now, Obamacare has been an unalloyed good in the estimation of many of these very people.  It represents a major step toward a larger, more intrusive "compassionate" government, its stated goal is to help people, and, perhaps above all, it was loudly opposed by American society's most unsavory cohort: Conservatives.  Critics were lying about the law, blinded by some toxic brew of nihilistic ideology and racial bigotry.  Supposed "horror stories" were rare; plucked, amplified, exaggerated, and even fabricated by the nasty right-wing echo chamber.  Though some average people may have gotten something of a raw deal, the larger good was being served.  The law has been working well overall (wrong), and it's assisting more people than it's harming (wrong again).  That's what they believe, and they lined up to re-elect the man who championed the whole production.  But now that the law's effects have pierced their soft Ivory Tower cocoon, they're aghast.  These sorts of things happen to other sorts of people, after all.  The story continues:

Jerry R. Green, a professor of economics and a former provost who has been on the Harvard faculty for more than four decades, said the new out-of-pocket costs could lead people to defer medical care or diagnostic tests, causing more serious illnesses and costly complications in the future. “It’s equivalent to taxing the sick,” Professor Green said. “I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.” Meredith B. Rosenthal, a professor of health economics and policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, said she was puzzled by the outcry. “The changes in Harvard faculty benefits are parallel to changes that all Americans are seeing,” she said. “Indeed, they have come to our front door much later than to others.”

Rising costs might be tantamount to a "tax on the sick," you say?  Go figure. What a betrayal to those people who were promised repeatedly that their costs would fall considerably after the passage of the healthcare law.  Right?  Another Harvard professor (and former Obama adviser) is quoted essentially telling his colleagues to suck it up and recognize that they've had it -- and still have it -- much better than most people:

“Harvard is a microcosm of what’s happening in health care in the country,” said David M. Cutler, a health economist at the university who was an adviser to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. But only up to a point: Professors at Harvard have until now generally avoided the higher expenses that other employers have been passing on to employees. That makes the outrage among the faculty remarkable, Mr. Cutler said, because “Harvard was and remains a very generous employer.”

Fact check: Very, very true.

UPDATE - Obamacare supporter Jonathan Chait is terribly upset with conservatives crowing about this story. Here's Patrick Brennan's rebuttal.