The press gave Clinton a free pass on this one. The Wall Street Journal’s health blog picked up the Times story, but didn’t add analysis or context about caps. Instead the blog returned to the stale subject of mandates and let the world know that Clinton is a “big believer in raising tobacco taxes” to finance her plan, a point she made in the Times interview. The Journal could have better used its space to amplify what caps would mean in the real world, though maybe that’s too hard to do at blog speed. The libertarian Cato Institute, no friend of Clinton’s, weighed in with a crisp sound-bite. Caps, said Cato’s director of health policy studies, are “just a clever way of converting premiums into a progressive income tax. Socialized medicine, here we come.” No doubt that snippet will make the rounds in conservative commentary, and perhaps it will plant itself in the public’s mind that premium caps and affordability equal socialized medicine. Which they do not.
Affordability is too important to ordinary folks for the media to let the issue slide past. Last fall custodians, landscapers, plumbers, and other workers at Georgetown University cheered out loud when their union negotiated a new contract provision that freezes the employees’ share of health insurance premiums for one year. (Premium increases were capped at a little under $28 for the least expensive family plan). About the same time, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual Employer Health Benefits Survey announced that workers’ share of premiums had increased significantly from the year before—to about $700 on average for single policies and about $3,300 for family coverage: Not exactly small change for people whose budgets are being squeezed from so many directions.