The health care rollout is a fine mess.
• Technological difficulties dragging down the online insurance marketplaces that are a pillar of the Affordable Care Act.
• Millions of people receiving cancellation notices from their insurers because their policies don’t meet the requirements of the new health care law.
• Republicans in ecstasy and Democrats in panic because of President Barack Obama’s oft-repeated promise that “if you like your health plan you can keep it.”
• And now, suggested “fixes” that will only make matters worse.
The media are flooded with stories of people who have received the dreaded cancellation notice, often with an offer to purchase a much more expensive plan. Ms. Consumer, a cancer patient, lost her policy and will have to pay four times as much to maintain coverage!
That’s shocking, all right, especially if the report omits two essential details. First, people in the individual insurance market, which is what we’re talking about, have always been vulnerable to price spikes and cancellations. Policies are renewed annually, and illnesses like cancer are almost always met with brutal repercussions.
Second, Ms. Consumer can enroll in the exchange without disclosing a pre-existing condition. She cannot be denied coverage or charged a higher rate than someone else in her age bracket. She will receive a better, more comprehensive policy and probably pay less than before. Ms. Consumer, in fact, is exactly the person whom the insurance exchanges, and the Affordable Care Act overall, were intended to help.
But she won’t know that until she shops in the exchange. And right now that’s a daunting task.
Another overlooked detail is that only a sliver of the U.S. population is affected by this. Five percent of Americans are in the individual market, and only 1 to 2 percent are being tossed out of the low-cost plans.
But the anti-Obamacare battalions are making sure that 2 percent is being portrayed as the most victimized group in America’s long and difficult health care story. It has everyone’s attention. And so, of course, there has to be a fix.
The gall of the Republican “fixers” must be mentioned. This is the group that, in the U.S. House, has voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare and return to the good old days in which sick people in the individual market had no protection whatsoever. Most of them voted for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plans, which would have kicked up to 20 million Americans off of Medicaid.
Now they’re all rallying behind Michigan Rep. Fred Upton’s “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” which could just as well be called the “Drive a Stake Through Obamacare Act.” Hypocrisy at its zenith.
Upton proposes allowing insurers to continue to offer defective plans that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act to new and existing customers. Because these low-cost plans are geared to young, healthy people, Upton’s bill would leave the government insurance exchanges with older, sicker people, setting into motion the so-called death spiral.
Obama wants to allow insurers to extend current plans for one year, for existing customers only. It’s better, but it still sets up the same imbalance. The president of America’s Health Insurance Plans put out a statement lambasting Obama’s proposal before the president had even completed his news conference Thursday.
The best strategy would be for Obama and the Democrats to buckle up and ride out this storm. They need to fix the tech problems with the exchange and steer consumers there. They do not need to unravel the intricate health care law because 2 percent of the population is unhappy and Republicans are capitalizing on it.
Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.