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“Breathtakingly Cynical”: Guess Who Really Wants to Take Away Your Insurance? Republicans!

Republicans are outraged that some Americans must give up their current insurance plans because they don’t satisfy Obamacare’s new regulations for benefits and pricing. Partly they are mad at President Obama, because he repeatedly said people who like their coverage would get to keep it. And that’s fine. As I said yesterday, Obama should have said “most” people, not “all” people. Readers can decide for themselves whether, by the standards of politics, that’s a felony or misdemeanor.

But Republicans are also making a substantive argument here. It’s unconscionable, they say, that lawmakers would force people to give up their current coverage. Just a few minutes ago, during congressional testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, an angry Representative Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee practically screamed at the witness: “You’re taking away their choice!”

It’s good politics, I’m sure. It’s also breathtakingly cynical. Republicans have repeatedly endorsed proposals that would take insurance away from many more Americans—and leave them much, much worse off.

Start with the federal budgets crafted by Paul Ryan. You remember those, right? Those proposals passed through the House with unanimous Republican support and were, in 2012, a basis of the Republican presidential platform. Those budgets called for dramatic funding cuts to Medicaid. If Republicans had swept into power and enacted such changes, according to projections prepared by Urban Institute scholars and published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 14 and 20 million Medicaid recipients would lose their insurance. And that doesn’t even include the people who are starting to get Medicaid coverage through Obamacare’s expansions of the program. That’s another 10 to 17 million people.

And it’s not just people on Medicaid who would lose coverage if Republicans got their way. While Republicans in Congress have not unified by a single alternative to Obamacare, a building block of virtually every proposal in circulation is to equalize the tax treatment of employer-sponsored insurance and individual insurance—which, in layman’s terms, means making it much more appealing for somebody who gets coverage on the job to buy coverage on his or her own. Typically these proposals would allow insurers selling individual coverage to continue some of their current practices, like charging higher premiums or refusing to cover certain services for people with pre-existing conditions, or offering coverage with serous gaps in benefits. Most experts believe such reforms would hike the cost of employer plans, as only sicker people remained on them, potentially creating a “death spiral” that would lead to fewer employers offering plans. (Even the more optimistic estimates assume erosion of employer-sponsored insurance.)

Note the difference in scale here. Nobody knows exactly how many people are giving up non-group policies because insurers are reacting to Obamacare regulations. But it’s probably in the millions—and still substantially less than the number of people who would lose insurance if Ryan’s proposal for Medicaid became law.

More important, though, look at the kind of change taking place. Almost everybody giving up a non-group policy today has the option to get new insurance either through Medicaid or one of the new Obamacare marketplaces. Some people will pay more for these policies, some will pay less, but everybody will be getting coverage that includes an array of “essential” benefits, limits out-of-pocket spending, and can never be taken away or limited because the policyholder gets sick. In other words, everybody ends up with comprehensive, stable insurance. It may not be the policy he or she has today. But the vast majority of people with non-group market don’t keep the same policy for more than two years anyway.

Under the Republican plan, by contrast, people losing employer insurance would end up in the dysfunctionalnon-reformed individual market—the one full of confusing, junk policies that might not cover basic services like maternity or mental health or have huge gaps in coverage. And the people losing Medicaid? They would end up with … nothing at all.

The real issue here isn’t simply Republican opportunism and hypocrisy—although, please, let’s not ignore that either. The real issue is about the true trade-offs of policy. Both sides offer them. With Obamacare, a small number of people lose their current insurance but they end up with alternative, typically stronger coverage. Under the plans Republicans have endorsed, a larger number of people would lose their current insurance, as people migrated to a more volatile and less secure marketplace. Under Obamacare, the number of Americans without health insurance at all will come down, eventually by 30 or 40 million. Under most of the Republican plans, the number of Americans without insurance would rise.

Honest Republicans would justify their policies by arguing that Medicaid is a wasteful, inefficient program not worth keeping—and their changes, overall, would reduce health care spending while maximizing liberty. In other words, forcing people to give up their coverage is worth it. I don’t agree with those arguments, but they are honest. But they should stop pretending that it’s possible to address the problems of American health care without disrupting at least some people’s insurance arrangements—because, after all, they want to do the very same thing.


By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, October 30, 2013

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right’s Sickest Obamacare Lie Yet”: Republicans Believe People Who Live In Flat Places Shouldn’t Have To Buy Cars With Brakes

During Congressional hearings with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) made an interesting argument that some Americans don’t want quality health insurance.  “Some people like to drive a Ford and not a Ferrari,” Blackburn asserted.  But that begs the question: What kind of Ford?

As early as 1972, there were reports that when a Ford Pinto was involved in a low-speed collision, the car would spontaneously burst into flames.  According to a 1977 investigation by Mother Jones magazine, Ford was aware of the problem — resulting from a flaw in the gas tank design — but instead of paying to recall and redesign the car, Ford decided it would be cheaper to pay for the lawsuits.  Ultimately, at least 27 people and as many as 180 people died as a result of Pinto fires.  But it took the government forcing Ford to recall the Pinto for the problem to actually be solved.

In 2009, millions of Americans lacked any health insurance whatsoever and millions more had private health insurance metaphorically designed to explode at the hint of any serious illness or pre-existing conditions or exorbitant medical costs.  So, in 2009, 14,000 Americans were losing their health insurance every single day.  And medical bills were prompting more than 60% of all bankruptcies in our nation.   In other words, many health insurance policies were patently dangerous and unsafe.

Now, Congresswoman Blackburn and her ilk might argue that people should have been free to buy the Pinto if they wanted, without government intrusion into personal choices or private business practice — just like they seem to want to argue that Americans should be free to hold onto their inadequate, costly and reckless insurance policies that throw them off at the slightest sign of illness while forcing costs up for the rest of us.  But arguably most Americans want to buy cars that are safe.  Auto companies didn’t want to install seat belts and airbags, just like Ford didn’t want to fix the Pinto.  That was government regulation at work, making us all more safe — even if, in some cases, it made cars more expensive.  We ultimately save, in every way imaginable, when the number of traffic deaths are dramatically cut.

This is, in effect, exactly what the Affordable Care Act does with respect to some currently existing, private insurance policies.  If those policies don’t meet a new, higher bar of quality coverage, then the government will no longer allow insurance companies to sell them.  Instead, the 5 percent of Americans who rely on the individual insurance market for their coverage will have other options, all that provide better quality coverage and many of which are far less expensive.  Plus at least half of folks on the individual market will be eligible for subsidies that further bring costs down.

A great example comes from Deborah Cavallaro, who has been making the rounds on television complaining about her current insurance plan being cancelled.  Cavallaro had not looked into her other, new options under Obamacare until a Los Angeles Times reporter called.  Together, they looked at Cavallaro’s options — and found a “silver” plan for Cavallaro that would cost slightly more in her monthly premium but save her tons in terms of her annual deductible and out-of-pocket costs as well as doctor visit expenses.  Plus, thanks to Obamacare, this plan would not be subject to the annual payment caps or pre-existing condition clauses that have been exploding in the faces of consumers for decades.  After all, it’s important to remember that in 2009, most Americans were not very satisfied with their insurance plans.  People wanted better options and now, thanks to Obamacare, they’ve got ‘em!

Congresswoman Blackburn and her cohort might fire back something about young healthy men being required to pay for good insurance plans that cover maternity — one of 10 basic coverage requirements mandated under the Affordable Care Act, this one designed to undo the history of insurance plans discriminating against women and families.  Perhaps Republicans might also argue that Americans who live in really flat places should be able to buy cars without breaks.  But that wouldn’t be safe for drivers or the rest of us.  And in the case of health care reform in particular, the point here is to bring down costs and raise the quality of care for all of us.  Those young, healthy men are going to grow up and have families one day — and then eventually become elderly — and will benefit from an insurance system that keeps costs manageable throughout and doesn’t kick off the elderly or infirm.  Just like we all benefit from seatbelts and airbags, even if we never get in an accident.

Nobody is forcing anyone to buy a Ferrari plan in the individual health insurance exchange.  At least 6.4 million Americans will pay less than $100 per month for coverage in the Obamacare exchanges — which means there are plenty of Ford’s available.  What the Affordable Care Act simply ensures is that those policies will be safe and reliable — and not catch fire when we least expect it.

By: Sally Kohn, Salon, October 31, 2013

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Defiant Obamacare Defense”: A New World Where Insurers Have To Cover Categories Of Treatments They Never Had To Before

President Obama’s speech at Faneuil Hall was probably his most passionate and unapologetic defense of the health-care law in ages, maybe since its passage. At times like this in the past, Old Mr. Reasonable has hemmed and hawed, ceding that his opponents had a point, but insisting—reasonably, of course—that he had a better one if you just stopped and thought about it. But Wednesday afternoon in Boston gave us a different Obama. He took a page out of the Bush playbook or, dare I say it, even the Cheney one. If things are going a little rocky at the moment, it doesn’t matter; cede nothing. Stick to plan. No matter the merits or facts, it’s the only approach that our political culture respects.

The money moment of the speech, of course, came when he answered the questions raised by the NBC report Tuesday. According to NBC, people who had bought insurance on the private market who don’t have either employer or government coverage were getting hammered by Obamacare. They were getting letters telling them their coverage had expired and then finding that the new coverage available to them was going to cost more. It flew in the face, said NBC’s Lisa Myers, of Obama’s promise that if you had coverage now and liked it, nothing would happen to you.

She was right. He shouldn’t have said it. And in Boston he didn’t exactly say, “I shouldn’t have said it.” But he did turn it around and say for that small percentage of people, the coverage they’re going to end up with is better! It also just might be cheaper, he said, and they are going to have peace of mind: “They can’t use allergies or pregnancy or sports injury or the fact that you’re a woman to charge you more. They can’t do that anymore!”

It’s an interesting, by which I mean preposterous, meme that’s developing on the Republican side. On Wednesday morning, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the issue. Some people, Blackburn said, “would rather drive a Ford than a Ferrari.” No denying that; in my younger and single and childless days, I certainly would have opted for a Ford plan instead of a Ferrari plan, so up to a point, Blackburn is making sense.

But Obamacare creates a world where insurers have to cover several categories of treatments that they never had to cover before, and since people with those conditions are now going to sign up and use those services, it’s going to cost more in some cases. And it’s understandable if people are upset about that. But Blackburn’s analogy, of course, breaks down because any citizen, at some unknowable future point, may be hit with one of those conditions. A person might develop mental illness. Or their child might. No imaginable circumstance could make a reasonable Ford-owner think, “Damn, I should have bought that Ferrari.” But numerous circumstances could make the self-employed citizen or parent think, “Damn, I’m glad I bought that Ferrari plan.”

What’s most fascinating to me about the whole thing is that the experience is training, or is going to train, Americans to rethink the really fundamental questions about how life and society are organized in a way politics rarely does. One of the major differences between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives believe in the primacy of the individual, while liberals want people to think about the community. Another difference, related, has to do with the two creeds’ opposing conceptions of individualism. Conservatives go for the whole rugged individualism thing, whereas the liberal view of the individual is closer to “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Well, the nature of health-care coverage is it has the power to bring consideration of these questions to the fore. A country where people have to sit down and choose how best to protect themselves and their loved ones against pain and death, and where they have to think about the trade-offs between paying more and having better coverage, is a country where people are being forced, in a way, to think about the most profound questions of community and the individual—of how much responsibility we ought to be forced to shoulder for each other.

I used to think, “This is just like auto insurance; you’re a safe driver, but you insure yourself against the unsafe drivers, and everybody understands that, so why should this be different?” But it is, somehow. It’s so much more personal. It’s about our frailty as human beings, and contemplation of our frailty makes us both obstinate and individualistic (“I can take of myself, Jack!”) and, in our more honest moments, vulnerable and communitarian (“What will I do if I really get sick?”). Forcing people to think about their coverage forces them to think about all that.

How will it turn out? Who knows. It has the positive potential of making people, a majority of people, see that this all makes a kind of sense, that they are not, whether they like it or not, autonomous actors. That, come to think of it, is what terrifies conservatives. Since 1980, they have trained people to think chiefly about themselves, unburdened of the context of society. Obamacare will force them to think of society. And most people, not being selfish asses (and most people aren’t), will, once the kinks are worked out, accept it. Polls are already indicating that. No wonder Ted Cruz is losing it.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 30, 2013

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Anecdotal Journalism At Its Worse”: Every News Story Has Two Sides, Except, Apparently Obamacare

The rocky rollout of Obamacare has prompted commentators to attack the president and his team for having three years to plan for the launch and still not getting it right. That’s a legitimate critique as problems persist. But the same can be said for an awful lot of reporters doing a very poor job covering Obamacare. They also had three years to prepare themselves to accurately report the story.

So what’s their excuse?

The truth is, the Beltway press rarely bothers to explain, let alone cover, public policy any more. With a media model that almost uniformly revolves around the political process of Washington (who’s winning, who’s losing?), journalists have distanced themselves from the grungy facts of governance, especially in terms of how government programs work and how they effect the citizenry.

But explaining is the job of journalism. It’s one of the crucial roles that newsrooms play in a democracy. And in the recent case of Obamacare, the press has failed badly in its role. Worse, it has actively misinformed about the new health law and routinely highlighted consumers unhappy with Obamacare, while ignoring those who praise it.

As Joshua Holland noted at Bill Moyers’ website, “lazy stories of “sticker shock” and cancellations by reporters uninterested in the details of public policy only offer the sensational half of a complicated story, and that’s providing a big assist to opponents of the law.”

It’s part of a troubling trend. Fresh off of blaming both sides for the GOP’s wholly-owned, and thoroughly engineered, government shutdown, the press is now botching its Obamacare reporting by omitting key facts and context — to the delight of Republicans. It’s almost like there’s a larger newsroom pattern in play.

And this week the pattern revolved around trying to scare the hell out of people with deceiving claims about how Obamacare had forced insurance companies to “drop” clients and how millions of Americans had “lost” their coverage.

Not quite.

Insurance companies informed some customers that plans that didn’t meet minimum standards required by Obamacare would be phased out. But the part often obscured or downplayed in breathless “cancellation” news reports is that consumers are able to shop for new plans that in many cases are superior to the old ones, and often less expensive (or partially paid for by subsidies). In other words, they’re transitioning from one plan to another.

It’s understandable why right-wing partisan voices only interested in trashing Obamacare and damaging the president would push claims, as recently did, that nearly one million Californians have “lost” their insurance because of the new law. (They didn’t.) It’s less clear why mainstream reporters would traffic in that same kind of misleading claims.

Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher has been methodically dissecting erroneous and painfully misleading Obamacare reports this week. He concluded one big problem is “a reliance on consumers who aren’t insurance experts, and reporters who aren’t much better.”

Reporters, and especially television reporters, seem anxious to interview consumers who have been notified by letter that their insurance policy has been canceled and who say they’re shocked to find out how expensive purchasing a new plan will be.

But as Christopher discovered, that’s often not the case and that consumers and reporters either don’t understand the options that are available, or haven’t researched the issue enough. (Christopher was able to find much less expensive plans for several consumers touted in TV reports.) That’s because (surprise!) the cost of new insurance plans quoted in letters sent by insurance companies often don’t represent the lowest option available via the open exchange.

Just look at the now-infamous CBS report about Florida resident Dianne Barrette who complained her premium under Obamacare would increased tenfold, from $54 a month to $591 a month. (She was quickly invited onto Fox News to tell her tale.) But a woman paying just $54 a month for health insurance didn’t set off any red flags among editors at CBS News? Barrette’s health plan — the best she could afford — was a barely-there “junk health insurance” policy that didn’t cover hospitalization, ambulance service, or prescription drugs.

Left unsaid by CBS, as Holland reported, was the fact that under Obamacare Barrette qualified “for a bronze plan, which guarantees free preventive care and coverage for hospitalizations, for only $97 per month — one-sixth of that headline number that’s making the rounds.”

Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News profiled another so-called Obamacare “sticker shock” victim and detailed how Deborah Cavallaro’s monthly premium would go up from $293 to $484. (She appeared on CNBC to repeat her Obamacare complaints.) But then American Prospect‘s Paul Waldman did some online shopping and found a plan that Cavallaro qualified for and cost $258 per-month, $35 less than the plan that’s being canceled.

“If you find someone who’s going to end up paying more thanks to Obamacare, fair enough,” wrote Waldman. “Run with the story. But first, you’d better perform the due diligence to find out what a comparable plan really costs.” (Still, lots of reporters don’t.)

Christopher noted another glaring omission from the ongoing reporting: “None of these reports take the extra step of explaining the tremendous benefits of the Affordable Care Act, for which most reasonable people wouldn’t necessarily mind a bit of a tradeoff.”

Also, absent from virtually all the reports is the acknowledgement that insurance companies canceling existing plans in the individual market and consumers being forced to join new ones is not an unusual occurrence. At all.

Obamacare coverage has often been anecdotal journalism at its worst, simply because it’s been the same one anecdote told over and over and over.

One CBS report acknowledged, “Industry experts say about half the people getting the letters will pay more — and half will pay less, thanks to taxpayer subsidies.” If that’s the case, where are the television news reports featuring the “half” who will soon be paying less for health insurance thanks to Obamacare?

Maybe I’ve just missed them all? But for this news viewer the pattern seems unmistakable: Consumers who might have to pay more (or more accurately, consumers who think they might have to pay more) are welcomed before the cameras to tell their understandably frustrating tales.

In his bad-news Obamacare report featuring three frustrated health care consumers, CNN’s Drew Griffin admitted that he didn’t even bother looking for success stories. Instead, as host Anderson Cooper explained, because Obama had given a speech extolling the benefits of Obamacare, it was CNN’s and Griffin’s job to “counter against that.”

And then there was the absurd CBS report which highlighted one man’s complaint that under Obamacare all insurance plans must provide maternity care coverage. As Media Matters noted, instead of interviewing a beneficiary of the maternity coverage, CBS highlighted a man upset that his plan included the key benefit.

The media rule has been hard to miss: Consumers who have complaints about Obamacare are much, much more newsworthy than those who have praise.

By the way, in case anyone is interested, here are some examples of Obamacare fans (who have been highlighted by local media outlets and personal online postings):

* Phil Sherburne in Salt Lake City purchased health insurance for his family of five for just $123 per-month.

* California mechanic and small business owner Rakesh Rikhi purchased $500-a-month health insurance, helping him save $5,000 each year.

* Katie Klabusich sometimes paid more for health insurance each month than she did for rent, and bounced around from bad plan to bad plan. Now thanks to Obamacare she has solid health insurance. Or, “HOLY SHIT I HAVE COMPREHENSIVE MEDICAL COVERAGE STARTING IN TEN WEEKS!”, as Klabusich wrote on her blog.

Every news story has two sides. Except, apparently, Obamacare.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, October 30, 2013

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Media, Obamacare, Press | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Solely An Oppositional Movement”: Why Winning Elections Is The Last Thing The Tea Party Wants

Keith Humphreys asks a provocative question: Does the Tea Party even want to win elections? This comes up in response to a long article in the National Review by Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry telling the Tea Party to get its head out of the clouds and start doing things that will help Republicans win. While it’s tricky to ascribe specific desires and intentions to a large, complicated collection of people like the Tea Party, to the extent we can, I think the answer to whether they want to win is pretty clearly no. And there’s a certain logic to it.

The reason is that the Tea Party is an oppositional movement, and oppositional movements only thrive when they’re in the opposition. They can talk all they like about both Republicans and Democrats being part of the problem, and being opposed just to “Washington,” but we all know that at its heart it’s about Barack Obama and everything he represents. If Hillary Clinton or another Democrat becomes president in 2016, most of the anger and resentment that gives the movement life will get transferred to that person, and it will continue. But as I’ve held for a few years now, as a movement the Tea Party has a firm expiration date, which is the inauguration of the next Republican president.

The movement also holds a contempt for compromise of any sort as one of its fundamental pillars, which is fairly easy to stick with when your side is out of power. It’s not like you’re going to be getting much of what you want anyway, so you can scoff at the half-loaves your more reasonable colleagues are offering up. But when there’s a Republican administration the gifts to conservatism will be showering down from every cloud, and they’ll be much tougher to say no to. How about we give you an appointment at the EPA, where you can destroy the agency from the inside instead of railing at it from the street? What say we do the same to the Labor Department? Now that our bills won’t get vetoed, let’s start slashing away at food stamps and CHIP and all those other programs the “takers” suckle on. It’s time to party! In that atmosphere, there’s so much to say yes to that saying no to everything isn’t so attractive anymore.

And when it can’t shout “No!”, the Tea Party will have no more reason for being. Obviously, even if it’s dead as a movement, many of the people who championed it will still be in Congress. But saying no won’t be as attractive for them either. It’s one thing to imagine yourself a brave warrior standing up against Barack Obama and his plan to turn America into a nightmare of socialist misery. It’s another to, say, fight against cuts to Medicaid because you want even bigger cuts to Medicaid. That’s far less romantic.

So no, as a whole the Tea Party doesn’t have much of an interest in winning elections, because if it helped Republicans have a resounding win, it would literally be the last thing the movement ever did.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 31, 2013

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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