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“California, Here We Come?”: If Obamacare Can Work For 38 Million People In California, It Can Work For America

It goes without saying that the rollout of Obamacare was an epic disaster. But what kind of disaster was it? Was it a failure of management, messing up the initial implementation of a fundamentally sound policy? Or was it a demonstration that the Affordable Care Act is inherently unworkable?

We know what each side of the partisan divide wants you to believe. The Obama administration is telling the public that everything will eventually be fixed, and urging Congressional Democrats to keep their nerve. Republicans, on the other hand, are declaring the program an irredeemable failure, which must be scrapped and replaced with … well, they don’t really want to replace it with anything.

At a time like this, you really want a controlled experiment. What would happen if we unveiled a program that looked like Obamacare, in a place that looked like America, but with competent project management that produced a working website?

Well, your wish is granted. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you California.

Now, California isn’t the only place where Obamacare is looking pretty good. A number of states that are running their own online health exchanges instead of relying on HealthCare.gov are doing well. Kentucky’s Kynect is a huge success; so is Access Health CT in Connecticut. New York is doing O.K. And we shouldn’t forget that Massachusetts has had an Obamacare-like program since 2006, put into effect by a guy named Mitt Romney.

California is, however, an especially useful test case. First of all, it’s huge: if a system can work for 38 million people, it can work for America as a whole. Also, it’s hard to argue that California has had any special advantages other than that of having a government that actually wants to help the uninsured. When Massachusetts put Romneycare into effect, it already had a relatively low number of uninsured residents. California, however, came into health reform with 22 percent of its nonelderly population uninsured, compared with a national average of 18 percent.

Finally, the California authorities have been especially forthcoming with data tracking the progress of enrollment. And the numbers are increasingly encouraging.

For one thing, enrollment is surging. At this point, more than 10,000 applications are being completed per day, putting the state well on track to meet its overall targets for 2014 coverage. Just imagine, by the way, how different press coverage would be right now if Obama officials had produced a comparable success, and around 100,000 people a day were signing up nationwide.

Equally important is the information on who is enrolling. To work as planned, health reform has to produce a balanced risk pool — that is, it must sign up young, healthy Americans as well as their older, less healthy compatriots. And so far, so good: in October, 22.5 percent of California enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34, slightly above that group’s share of the population.

What we have in California, then, is a proof of concept. Yes, Obamacare is workable — in fact, done right, it works just fine.

The bad news, of course, is that most Americans aren’t lucky enough to live in states in which Obamacare has, in fact, been done right. They’re stuck either with HealthCare.gov or with one of the state exchanges, like Oregon’s, that have similar or worse problems. Will they ever get to experience successful health reform?

The answer is, probably yes. There won’t be a moment when the clouds suddenly lift, but the exchanges are gradually getting better — a point inadvertently illustrated a few days ago by John Boehner, the speaker of the House. Mr. Boehner staged a publicity stunt in which he tried to sign up on the D.C. health exchange, then triumphantly posted an entry on his blog declaring that he had been unsuccessful. At the bottom of his post, however, is a postscript admitting that the health exchange had called back “a few hours later,” and that he is now enrolled.

And maybe the transaction would have proceeded faster if Mr. Boehner’s office hadn’t, according to the D.C. exchange, put its agent — who was calling to help finish the enrollment — on hold for 35 minutes, listening to “lots of patriotic hold music.”

There will also probably be growing use of workarounds — for example, encouraging people to go directly to insurers. This will temporarily defeat one of the purposes of the exchanges, which was to make price comparisons easy, but it will be good enough as a short-term patch. And one shouldn’t forget that the insurance industry has a big financial stake in the success of Obamacare, and will soon be pitching in with big efforts to sign people up.

Again, Obamacare’s rollout was a disaster. But in California we can see what health reform will look like, beyond the glitches. And it’s going to work.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 24, 2013

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When In Doubt, Go Shopping”: The Affordable Care Act Puts People, Not Insurers, First

It’s pretty straightforward: A major reason we have 50 million uninsured people in the United States is that insurance companies do not see individuals as a profitable market.

The recent uproar over canceled health insurance plans not only highlights the insurance industry’s out-of-hand dismissal of this market, but also reinforces why there is a need for the new health reforms under the Affordable Care Act .

Consumers have reason to be angry but they should be angry at the insurers, not the health care law. Connecticut’s Insurance Commissioner, Thomas B. Leonardi, announced Monday that of the approximate 27,000 insurance policy cancellation notices which have gone out only 9,000 of them were because plans were not in compliance with the health care law. The new law forbids insurers to deny or drop coverage when people get sick or have a pre-existing condition such as hypertension, diabetes or obesity. Consumers will gain those protections in 2014 whether they buy through the insurance exchange called Access Health CT or on their own.

Mr. Leonardi’s comments highlight the fact that it has been a customary practice of insurers to send their policyholders notifications that a particular plan will no longer be available or there’s been a change in benefits. Only one-third of the policies being canceled in Connecticut were plans that did not have protection under the law’s grandfather clause and did not meet the benefit standards or the consumer protections required by the law. The other two-thirds were discontinued as part of the insurance companies’ business-as-usual practices.

Historically, the health insurance industry has made its fortune by denying coverage to sick people, decreasing benefits and jacking up prices. Insurers do not see the individual market as profitable unless they continue to shift risk onto consumers through high deductible plans and unless they can raise rates on their customers as they age and develop health problems to the point they can no longer afford health insurance. That’s why they’re getting out. The Affordable Care Act is stopping this bait and switch approach.

Understandably, the cancellation notices came as a jolt for policyholders, especially because the reasons behind them were not made clear. Furthermore, insurers failed to do the right thing and inform their policyholders that other coverage options are now available to them under the new health care law.

Fortunately for consumers though, President Barack Obama‘s decision to give insurance companies another year to continue their substandard health plans carried the proviso that they must inform their customers of the new coverage opportunities under the health care law.

It’s too bad the commotion over the cancellations happened to coincide with the rocky rollout of the new health insurance exchange website. But consumers would do well to keep their eyes on the big picture, beyond the political grandstanding and partisan bickering. Websites can be fixed. Health care reform is about improving the quality of coverage benefits and offering more choice and affordability through the health insurance exchanges. That’s what Connecticut is trying to do.

Friday’s announcement by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that the state would not extend poor quality policies through 2014 re-emphasizes Connecticut’s commitment to making sure its residents have access to plans that will provide quality comprehensive care. The state also announced that it was pushing back the date people had to sign up by for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Now residents have until Dec. 22, giving them an additional week to weigh the options on Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, and to find a plan that fits their families’ needs.

According to Access Health CT, in the first month, more than 300,000 Connecticut consumers checked out their options on the Website, almost 40,000 calls have been answered through the call center and more than 13,000 Connecticut residents are now enrolled.

Clearly, consumers here are getting the message: When in doubt, go shopping.

 

By: Frances G. Padilla, President of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, Op-Ed Columnist, The Hartford Courant, November 22, 2013

November 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance Companies | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How We Got Obamacare To Work”: We Urge Congress To Get Out Of The Way And Support Efforts To Make Health-Care Reform Work

In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites.

Sure, having functioning Web sites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state Web sites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, Web sites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs.

The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

In Washington, the legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

In Kentucky, two independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs.

In Connecticut, more than 50 percent of enrollment in the state exchange, Access Health CT, is for private health insurance. The Connecticut exchange has a customer satisfaction level of 96.5 percent, according to a survey of users in October, with more than 82 percent of enrollees either “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend the exchange to a colleague or friend.

In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first.

President Obama announced an administrative change last week that would allow insurance companies to continue offering existing plans to those who want to keep them. It is up to state insurance commissioners to determine how and whether this option works for their states, and individual states will come to different conclusions.

What we all agree with completely, though, is the president’s insistence that our country cannot go back to the dark days before health-care reform, when people were regularly dropped from coverage, and those with “bare bones” plans ended up in medical bankruptcy when serious illness struck, many times because their insurance didn’t cover much of anything.

Thanks to health-care reform and the robust exchanges in our states, people are getting better coverage at a better price.

One such person is Brad Camp, a small-business owner in Kingston, Wash., who received a cancellation notice in September from his insurance carrier. He went to the state exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder, and for close to the same premium his family was paying before got upfront coverage for doctor’s office visits and prescription drug , vision and dental coverage. His family was able to keep the same insurance carrier and doctors and qualified for tax credits to help cover the cost.

Since Howard Stovall opened his sign and graphics business in Lexington, Ky., in 1998, he has paid half the cost of health insurance for his eight employees. With the help of Stovall’s longtime insurance agent and Kentucky’s health exchange, Kynect, Stovall’s employees are saving 5 percent to 40 percent each on new health insurance plans with better benefits. Stovall can afford to provide additional employee benefits, including full disability coverage and part of the cost of vision and dental plans, while still saving the business 50 percent compared with the old plans.

In Connecticut, Anne Masterson was able to reduce her monthly premiums from $965 to $313 for similar coverage, including a $145 tax credit. Masterson is able to use her annual premium savings of $8,000 to pay bills or save for retirement.

These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first. Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents.

We urge Congress to get out of the way and to support efforts to make health-care reform work for everyone. We urge our fellow governors, most especially those in states that refused to expand Medicaid, to make health-care reform work for their people too.

 

By: Jay Inslee, Steve Beshear and Dannel P. Malloy, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, Published: November 17, 2013: Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is governor of Washington. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is governor of Kentucky. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, is governor of Connecticut.

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Note To U. S. Senate”: Connecticut’s New Gun Laws Should Be A Wake-Up Call And A ‘Model For the Nation’

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) hopes that Connecticut’s sweeping new gun-control proposals will be a “wake-up call” for the U.S. Senate, which is expected to consider new gun legislation when it returns next week.

“I think it should be a wake-up call, and it should serve as a model for the nation and as momentum for Congress,” Blumenthal said in an interview with Business Insider on Wednesday. “I’m proud and thankful that Connecticut is helping to lead the nation and leading by example.”

The Connecticut General Assembly on Wednesday is expected to pass the new set of restrictions put forward by a bipartisan legislative task force.

The new legislation, which comes a little more than three months after the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., includes some of the following measures:

  • A ban on high-capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds;
  • A ban on armor-piercing bullets;
  • Requiring background checks for all weapon sales, including privately at gun shows;
  • An expansion of mental health research in the state;
  • An expansion of the state’s current assault weapons ban.

If, as expected, Gov. Dannel Malloy signs the bill into law, the new provisions will be enforced immediately.

But Blumenthal cautioned that the state’s new restrictions won’t mean much if measures aren’t taken on a national scale.

“I think it will heighten awareness, but it also should dramatize that no single state can do this alone. No single state can protect its citizens from illegal trafficking or straw purchases, because our state borders are porous,” Blumenthal said.

The U.S. Senate is expected to begin debate next week on a host of new gun control legislation, including universal background checks and a federal gun trafficking ban. Blumenthal also said he plans to introduce an amendment that would limit magazine capacity to no more than 10 rounds.

 

By: Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, April 3, 2013

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Boundaries”: The NRA’s Shameless Attempt To Defeat The Sandy Hook Promise

NRA leadership demonstrated yet again last week just how low they are willing to go in their unconscionable effort to block any and all common sense, life saving gun violence legislation. Their most recent repugnant tactic—repeated robo calls to Newtown families—mocks and betrays the courage and compassion demonstrated by the Newtown community just barely three months after one of the world’s most horrific acts of gun violence seized 26 beautiful and heroic young lives.

Less than two months ago at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, I asked NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre if he would join the tens of thousands of people around the world in taking the Sandy Hook Promise. The Promise is a very simple message. It asks its followers to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School by promising to do everything possible to encourage and support common sense solutions to make our communities and country safer from similar acts of violence. “I promise this time there will be change,” the Promise concludes. Wayne LaPierre agreed to the Promise that day, yet every minute of everyday since then, he and his organization have poured countless amounts of time, money and effort into making that simple promise harder and harder to achieve.

In its relentless effort to defeat the Sandy Hook Promise and block common sense, life saving gun violence legislation, NRA leadership has shown no boundary it will not cross—including injecting its fear-based messages into the homes, the sanctuaries, of a grieving community.

What NRA leadership simply refuses to acknowledge is that, despite their hopes and efforts, the Connecticut effect is not going to fade. In fact, it is growing, and it will not go away until we get the weapons of war off our streets, provide law enforcement the tools they need to enforce the laws on the books, improve the safety of our schools (and I don’t mean vigilante dads and teachers with guns), and strengthen our mental health system. With or without the NRA, we will act.

My message to NRA leadership: Stop these invasive, unconscionable calls. Join the vast majority of Americans and Newtown residents in supporting common sense measures to stem and stop gun violence.

If you agree, join me in urging NRA leadership to cease and desist these inhumane calls by calling them at 1-800-672-3888.

 

By: Senator Richard Blumenthal, Guest Blogger; Think Progress, March 25, 2013

March 27, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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