Obamacare Makes Ayn Rand Look Prescient

Free insurance for people who haven’t paid? What could go wrong?

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With limitless condescension does the left like to accuse free-market supporters of being acolytes of the controversial writer-philosopher Ayn Rand. Indeed, the idea that GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin may have encouraged his staff to read the author's magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged," was practically the only mark his opponents could dredge up against the vice presidential hopeful in 2012 – and they wielded it like a bludgeon.

In her novels, Rand famously depicts an anti-libertarian dystopia in which cronies in Washington, D.C., gather in smoke-filled rooms and plot to use the force of government to appropriate the wealth of productive private citizens. They do this under the auspices of service to "the public good" even as they get richer and the rest of society collapses on itself. And for some on the right, these are cautionary tales about the very worst progressivism has to offer.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

But to many liberals it seems preposterous – worthy of mockery! – that people believe the policies they support could lead to such an end. There is an enormous difference, they argue, between regulating the banks and co-opting them, between requiring people to purchase private insurance on a private market and switching the nation wholesale to socialized medicine.

Of course, what begins as a wide chasm does not always remain that way. Late last week, the Department of Health and Human Services proffered an unexpected new Obamacare regulation effectively requiring private insurance companies to hand out free coverage, including for prescription drugs and the right to see out-of-network doctors at no additional cost, to millions of customers who have not paid for it.

As Forbes' Avik Roy writes:

HHS assured reporters that it would be "urging issuers to give consumers additional time to pay their first month's premium and still have coverage beginning January 1, 2014." In other words, urging them to offer free care to those who haven't paid.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

If people take advantage of the insurers' generosity and then never do get around to paying the premiums they owe, well, the insurance companies will just have to accept that. And should any of them object to being asked at the eleventh hour to take on the potential for massive financial losses, the administration reserves the right to retributively blacklist them from selling insurance on the exchange.

So yes, it's true, we aren't yet living in the depths of an Ayn Rand plotline. But neither were her characters – at the beginning the books.