Don't Believe Anyone Who Claims to Understand the Economics of Obamacare

Here is a link to my 33d column on Quartz “Don’t believe anyone who claims to understand the economics of Obamacare.”

Here is my original introduction, which was drastically trimmed down for the version on Quartz: 

Republican hatred of Obamacare, and Democratic support for Obamacare, have shut down the “non-essential” activities of the Federal Government. So, three-and-a-half years since President Obama signed the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” into law, and a year or so since a presidential election in which Obamacare was a major issue, it is a good time to think about Obamacare again.

In my first blog post about health care, back in June 2012, I wrote:

I am slow to post about health care because I don’t know the answers. But then I don’t think anyone knows the answers. There are many excellent ideas for trying to improve health care, but we just don’t know how different changes will work in practice at the level of entire health care systems.  

That remains true, but thanks to the intervening year, I have high hopes that with some effort, we can be, as the saying goes, “confused on a higher level and about more important things.”

One thing that has come home to me in the past year is just how far the US health care sector—with or without Obamacare—is from being the kind of classical free market Adam Smith was describing when he talked about the beneficent “invisible hand” of the free market. 

Reactions: Gerald Seib and David Wessel Included this column in their “What We’re Reading” Feature in the Wall Street Journal. Here is their excellent summary:

The key to the long-run impact of Obamacare will be whether it smothers innovation in health care – both in the way it is organized and in the development of new treatments. And no one today can know whether that’ll happen, says economist Miles Kimball. [Quartz]

(In response, Noah Smith had this to say about me and the Wall Street Journal.) This column was also featured in Walter Russell Mead’s post “How Will We Know If Obamacare Succeeds or Fails.” (Thanks to Robert Graboyes for pointing me to that post.) He writes:

Meanwhile, at Quartz, Miles Kimball has a post entitled “Don’t Believe Anyone Who Claims to Understand the Economics of Obamacare.” The whole post is worth reading, but near the end, he argues that the ACA’s effect on innovation could eventually be the most important thing about it’s long-term legacy…

From our perspective, these are both very good places to start thinking about how to measure Obamacare’s impact. Of course, Tozzi’s metric is easier to quantify than Kimball’s: it will be difficult to judge how the ACA is or isn’t limiting innovation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try: without innovation, there’s no hope for a sustainable solution to the ongoing crisis of exploding health care costs.

I have also been pleased by some favorable tweets. Here is a sampling: