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“About Those Canceled Plans”: When “Victims” Become Beneficiaries

When pressed for specifics, the Affordable Care Act’s detractors tend to focus on two main areas of concern: the website and the cancelation notices. The website is obviously important and administration officials are doing what they can. Maybe it’ll be fixed quickly, maybe it won’t – we’ll find out soon enough.

But the cancelation notices are a different kind of concern. As we’ve discussed, we’re talking about a very small percentage of the population that has coverage through the individual, non-group market and are now finding that their plans are being scrapped. When the House Republican “playbook” looks for people saying, “Because of Obamacare, I lost my insurance,” these are the folks they’re talking about.

But the story about these “victims” of reform is coming into sharper focus all the time.

Only a small sliver of the Americans who buy their own health insurance plans and may be seeing them canceled under Obamacare will pay higher premiums, according to an analysis released Thursday.

More than seven in 10 Americans who purchase health plans directly will get subsidies to help pay for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to the report by Families USA, a Washington-based organization that supports the health care reform law.

“It is important to keep a perspective about the small portion of the population that might be adversely affected,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “That number is a tiny fraction of the 65 million non-elderly people with pre-existing health conditions who will gain new protections through the Affordable Care Act. It is also a small fraction of the tens of millions of uninsured Americans who can also get help.”

Let’s put this another way. A tiny percentage of consumers will receive cancelation notices, and of them, more than 70% will get new, more secure coverage that ends up costing them less.

They’re not, in other words, victims. They’re beneficiaries.

In fairness, many of them won’t know this for a while because they can’t yet go to and see how much they’ll benefit, but we’re talking about the health care system itself – for all the talk about the cancelations, by a 2-to-1 margin, these folks are going to be better off, including receiving subsidies through the Affordable Care Act.

In reference to the remaining folks who’ll pay more, Pollack told the Huffington Post, “That’s approximately 1.5 million people, and that’s not trivial and I don’t in any way suggest that we shouldn’t be concerned about that group. But … the number of people at risk of this becoming a problem is considerably smaller than the tens of millions of people who are going to get substantial help.”

And here’s the larger question: if the evidence had pointed in the other direction, and 71% of these folks were poised to pay more, not less, would the story have gotten more attention? Would the coverage be dominated by “More bad news for Obamacare”?

This week, after years in which Obamacare critics said the law would fail to control costs, we saw remarkable evidence that the law is succeeding in controlling costs. Didn’t hear much about that? Neither did I.

I’m starting to get the sense that there’s an approved narrative – the Affordable Care Act is failing and is in deep trouble – and developments that point in the opposite direction are filtered out, while developments that reinforce the thesis are trumpeted.

The debate is often confusing enough, but this isn’t helping.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“High On Their Own Supply”: Republicans Marching Into One Well-Prepared Crossfire After Another

Jonathan Strong, writing at National Review Online, explains that the Republicans are wary of doing anything that might distract people from their campaign against the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, Mitch McConnell doesn’t intend to engage in any high-profile retaliatory procedural actions in the Senate. That’s fine with me, but it calls to mind McConnell’s immediate response to the invocation of the Nuclear Option. He took to the Senate floor and declared not that Harry Reid had just done something historical or significant or even abominable, but that Reid was merely trying to distract people from ObamaCare.

I thought that was the oddest response in the world. I expected fire and brimstone and steaming wrath and promises of vengeance, or even impeachment. And I got a mild complaint about Reid trying to change the narrative.

This makes me think that the Republicans are truly on another one of their Moby Dick adventures, like Whitewater, like the White House Travel Office, like Vince Foster, like l’affaire Lewinsky, like Saddam’s WMD, like Fast and Furious, like Solyndra, like the New Black Panther Party, like Benghazi, and like the most recent government shutdown. More than anything, it reminds me of when they convinced themselves not that the presidential polling numbers could be oversampling blacks, but that they were oversampling blacks. It’s like their theory that systematically trying to make it harder for blacks to vote would result in reduced black turnout rather than a black community more determined than ever to cast their ballots.

It’s some variation of stupidity and delusion, with a little evil sprinkled into the mix. And this really is the only area where I find the Republicans unpredictable. I know what they won’t agree to, which makes it easy to offer it to them without fear that they will accept it. “Have some Chained CPI, boys, really, all we need in return is some revenue.”

What I have trouble predicting is their next obsession, and how absurdly far they will take it. These people are still talking about Benghazi. As long as I’ve watched them, I still have to admit that I didn’t see that coming.

Still, their greatest weakness is their predictability. They do not know how to adapt to changing circumstances, nor how to trim their sails when it would be to their advantage. As a result, they march into one well-prepared crossfire after another.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 23, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not All Doom And Gloom On Obamacare”: Just A Matter Of Time Before Republicans Start Criticizing Something New

Condemning the Affordable Care Act and its problem-plagued rollout is easy, but when the White House insists things are getting better, that’s not just spin. Brett Norman reports this afternoon:

Tech surge czar Jeff Zients said that will be able to handle 50,000 users at a time by the end of this month – up from 25,000 now, thanks to hardware additions and software additions the team is putting in this weekend and next week.

He said that will enable the site to handle 800,000 people a day – “a conservative estimate,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

It’s important to note that handling increased traffic, while clearly important, is not the resolution to all of the website’s troubles. Accurately connecting consumers to insurers and providing reliable data on subsidies is just as important, and to date, these are areas with which has also struggled.

That said, Zients told reporters all of these issues are being addressed, and the increased website capacity should – should – keep the larger enrollment system on track towards its 2014 goals.

Indeed, even before Zients’s media briefing, Sarah Kliff highlighted reports of a “November surge” in enrollments.

By the end of October, the federal government had counted 106,000 people enrolled into private coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces, a small percentage of the projected half-million sign-ups.

By mid-November, though, with the 14 state-based marketplaces reporting fresh data, that number had just about doubled to more than 200,000…. State officials say they are seeing an uptick in sign-ups this month. California, which has had about 80,000 sign-ups, is now reporting about 2,000 enrollments per day. New York and Washington reported double-digit enrollment numbers as of this week.

Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman told Kliff, “It’s not all doom and gloom.”

Reports from several states where officials want the system to work are reporting impressive numbers for the first half of November. California, in particular, appears to be leading the way – and given that the Golden State is the nation’s largest, that’s good news for the overall totals.

The law’s proponents shouldn’t be Pollyannaish about any of this, and we have not reached the point at which the system can fairly be described as “adequate.” It’s just not there yet.

But the administration can credibly say they’re putting out the fires; they’re making steady progress; and they’ve moving closer to their goals. The panic is subsiding. The recent chatter that “Obamacare” is going to destroy the president, Democrats, the health care system, and the idea of progressive governance on a conceptual level hasn’t quite gone away, but it’s looking increasingly silly.

And while I’m reluctant to look too far ahead with so much uncertainty still surrounding the system’s functionality, I can’t help but wonder about what the political world’s conversation will look like if, in the near future, is working as it should, enrollment is strong, costs are contained, millions are gaining coverage they previously lacked, and millions more enjoy health care security that previously didn’t exist.

I have a very strong hunch we would, under this scenario, see very few headlines that say “Obama fixes problems, brings health care security to nation.” Rather, folks would just move past the hysteria of the last month, start criticizing something new, and Republicans could return to saying, “Now, about Benghazi….”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Revisionist History”: Chris Christie Shows Why The GOP Is Hopeless On Health Care Reform

With the rollout of the health care exchanges created by Obamacare hitting some bumps, to put it mildly, and President Obama’s approval rating falling to new lows, it seems like now would be the perfect time for Republicans to take control of the health care issue. Yet they haven’t.

Why? To figure that out, look no further than the GOP’s darling of the moment, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Fresh off a re-election rout, plenty of conservatives are pointing to Christie as the hope for a new, modern and revitalized GOP. And at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council 2013 yesterday, Christie knew his cue, saying, “Obamacare is a failure, it’s always been a failure and it will not succeed. It just won’t.”

But when asked what he would replace it with, Christie first demurred, saying he didn’t have enough time to flesh out a solution, but then added:

Obamacare is wrong, it’s a failure, it’s the most extraordinary overreach of government power in the history of our country. And it’s being run by people who have never run anything. So why are we surprised it’s failing?

What do we need to replace it? We need a robust debate among both sides. Unlike last time, where the president jammed this down everybody’s throat and got not one Republican vote because he was unwilling to make any compromise, including tort reform, for god’s sake. Well, then this time we need a robust conversation between both sides where everybody brings skin to the table and everybody compromises. And if we do that we can craft a solution.

This is just red meat, not a constructive discussion of the nation’s health care problems. And it’s emblematic of the mainstream GOP’s fact-free approach to health care reform and the problems it’s having landing punches against Obamacare.

For starters, it’s simply incorrect that the Obamacare exchanges are “being run by people who have never run anything.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, after all, ran a state (she was the governor of Kansas, not exactly a socialist utopia), which I imagine Christie counts as executive experience. And President Obama, like it or not, has been at the helm of the world’s largest economy and military since 2009.

But far more importantly, Christie’s only solution to the health care conundrum is more “debate.” He seems to believe that health care reform would have gone just fine if mean old Obama hadn’t “jammed this down everybody’s throat” without making any compromises. That’s revisionist history, to say the least.

Back here in reality, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., spent months fruitlessly trying to get Republicans to sign onto a health care bill, which was also endlessly debated in committee, in each chamber of Congress and on the airwaves. There are a slew of provisions in the law that come from various proposals Republicans have put forth over the years, including some lifted from their Obamacare alternative, but they earned Obama not one Republican vote.

Obama also ditched the public option – a government run plan in the health care exchange – as a concession, for which he got nothing in return except accusations that he was engineering a “government takeover” of health care.  Oh, and Christie’s magical tort reform, the GOP silver bullet? Obama has offered it to Republicans multiple times, and in response, they did nothing. (Tort reform, in the end, would result in scant savings anyway.)

This is not to deny that Obamacare has its problems, but simply to highlight that the GOP had the opportunity to be constructive during the health care debate, and instead chose across-the-board opposition and obstruction as an explicit political strategy to bring about Obama’s “Waterloo.”

Now, years later and with Obamacare faltering, the best the GOP’s newest star can muster is to tell the same old tales in the same old way. Complicating the matter is the fact that the few ideas conservatives do have for health care reform would result in many of the same things which Republicans are now criticizing. Reforms favored by the GOP would cause people to lose their insurance plans, even if they like them. And they would cut Medicare. Gasp!

Christie either knows this and can’t say it, because he would then be vilified by the conservative base, or he is just another Republican who doesn’t understand the tradeoffs involved in reforming America’s inefficient, wasteful and oftentimes completely backward health care system. And his refusal to even try to formulate a coherent health care alternative shows why, even after 40-something repeal votes and a disastrous rollout of the exchanges, Obamacare is still very much the law of the land.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, November 19, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Real World Consequences”: Why The Senate’s Nuclear Option On Filibuster Reform Matters

If you care about reproductive rights, the environment or worker rights, the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the chamber’s Democrats – including courageous votes by this state’s senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet – Thursday to reform the filibuster on presidential appointments matters. A lot.

This is not just inside-the-Beltway jabberwocky. Invoking the “nuclear option” so that a simple, 51-vote majority is all that’s needed to confirm judges below the Supreme Court level and other presidential appointments will have a profound effect on the everyday lives of many Americans. Courts are missing judges thanks to an unprecedented refusal by Republicans to confirm the president’s nominees. This is purely political, not about qualifications: as Senate Republicans have bluntly admitted, all Obama nominees are bad.

And this obstruction has real world consequences both in terms of shorthanded courts and the decisions they make.

So, for example, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located here in Denver and handles all federal court appeals for not only Colorado but also Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, has two vacancies thanks to GOP filibustering. And as Colorado Ethics Watch has noted, 98 percent of all federal appeals are decided at the Circuit Court level, meaning that, “decisions of the 10th Circuit on important issues such as the environment and federal land policy, reproductive freedom, voting rights and money in politics, and civil rights are often final and binding for the states in the Circuit.”

In addition to refusing to act on qualified judges to the 10th Circuit, Republicans have repeatedly blocked qualified judicial nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court. Per Ethics Watch, “The D.C. Circuit is a traditional stepping-stone to the U.S. Supreme Court, with four of the current justices having previously sat on the D.C. Circuit. Currently, three of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 judgeships are vacant, including one that has been open since its previous occupant, John Roberts, was confirmed chief justice of the United States in 2005.”

Judicial vacancies and court rulings matter. Without fair courts that have diverse and impartial judges, we won’t have justice when it comes to women’s health and reproductive rights.

To wit, on November 1, with three judicial vacancies thanks to Republican obstruction and no Obama nominees on the bench,  the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception in their health insurance plans violated religious freedom. Denver’s 10th Circuit, with two Republican-blocked vacancies, decided a similar case the same way, setting up a Supreme Court challenge on whether or not women have the right to birth control regardless of their employers’ religious beliefs. This has profound and dangerous implications even beyond reproductive rights: it threatens to upend the very notion of secular labor law. What if an employer decided their religious beliefs meant they didn’t have to pay Social Security taxes, follow wage and hour guidelines, or hire workers of a different race?

So this isn’t some arcane procedural maneuver by the Senate, it’s the end result of the Republican Party refusing to respect a Democratic president. As for the argument from the right that a future Republican majority will use this move against Democrats: Republicans have broken every deal they’ve made so far to avoid the “nuclear option.” There’s little doubt that they’d change the rules anyway if they magically got the majority.

At least this way a Democratic President, Barack Obama, sees that he, his judicial nominees and appointments, and the American people get a bit more justice.


By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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