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“Delusions Of Failure”: How Republicans Are Deceiving Voters And Deceiving Themselves

The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican representative from Washington — and it was remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen.

The closest she came to substance was when she described a constituent, “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly faced a $700-a-month premium hike after her policy was canceled. “This law is not working,” intoned Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And right there we see a perfect illustration of just how Republicans are trying to deceive voters — and are, in the process, deceiving themselves.

I’ll get back to “Bette in Spokane” in a minute, but first, is Obamacare “not working”?

Everyone knows about the disastrous rollout, but that was months ago. Since then, health reform has been steadily making up lost ground. At this point enrollments in the health exchanges are only about a million below Congressional Budget Office projections, and rising faster than projected. So a best guess is that by the time 2014 enrollment closes on March 31, there will be more than six million Americans signed up through the exchanges, versus seven million projected. Sign-ups might even meet the projection.

But isn’t Obamacare in a “death spiral,” in which only the old and sick are signing up, so that premiums will soon soar? Not according to the people who should know — the insurance companies. True, one company, Humana, says that the risk pool is worse than it expected. But others, including WellPoint and Aetna, are optimistic (which isn’t a contradiction: different companies could be having different experiences). And the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has run the numbers, finds that even a bad risk pool would have only a minor effect on premiums.

Now, some, perhaps many, of those signing up on the exchanges aren’t newly insured; they’re replacing their existing policies, either voluntarily or because those policies didn’t meet the law’s standards. But those standards are there for a reason — the same reason health insurance is now mandatory. Health reform won’t work if people go uninsured, then sign up when they get sick. It also can’t work if currently healthy people only buy fig-leaf insurance, which offers hardly any coverage.

And what this means, in turn, is that while we don’t know yet how many people will be newly insured under reform, we do know that even those who already had insurance are, on average, getting much better insurance. Since the goal of health reform was to make Americans more secure — to reduce their risk of being unable to afford needed health care, or of facing financial ruin if they get sick — the law is doing its job.

Which brings me back to Bette in Spokane.

Bette’s tale had policy wonks scratching their heads; it was hard to see, given what we know about premiums and how the health law works, how anyone could face that large a rate increase. Sure enough, when a local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, contacted Bette Grenier, it discovered that the real story was very different from the image Ms. McMorris Rodgers conveyed. First of all, she was comparing her previous policy with one of the pricier alternatives her insurance company was offering — and she refused to look for cheaper alternatives on the Washington insurance exchange, declaring, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.”

Even more important, all Ms. Grenier and her husband had before was a minimalist insurance plan, with a $10,000 deductible, offering very little financial protection. So yes, the new law requires that they spend more, but they would get far better coverage in return.

So was this the best story Ms. McMorris Rodgers could come up with? The answer, probably, is yes, since just about every tale of health reform horror the G.O.P. has tried to peddle has similarly fallen apart once the details were revealed. The truth is that the campaign against Obamacare relies on misleading stories at best, and often on outright deceit.

Who pays the price for this deceit? In many cases, American families. Although health care enrollment is actually going pretty well at this point, thousands and maybe millions of Americans have failed to sign up for coverage because they believe the false horror stories they keep hearing.

But conservative politicians aren’t just deceiving their constituents; they’re also deceiving themselves. Right now, Republican political strategy seems to be to stall on every issue, and reap the rewards from Obamacare’s inevitable collapse. Well, Obamacare isn’t collapsing — it’s recovering pretty well from a terrible start. And by the time that reality sinks in on the right, health reform will be irreversible.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 2, 2014

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Life Changing And Life Saving”: Remembering What Matters About The Affordable Care Act

On the Affordable Care Act front today, there’s very good practical news, and not-so-good political news. That gives us an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves to keep in mind what’s really important when we talk about health care.

Let’s start with the good news. First, as Marketplace reported this morning, a new report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows that the average health insurance premium on the exchanges is actually lower than the average premium in employer-sponsored plans. And it isn’t because the coverage is inadequate; according to a spokesperson, “even when you factor in all the out-of-pocket costs, the average top tier gold and platinum plans are similar to employer ones.” It’s hard to overstate what a success this is. If you’ve ever bought health insurance on the individual market before now, you know that if you could get covered at all, you were likely to get a plan that was expensive but had lots of gaps and lots of cost-sharing. The whole point of the exchanges was to give people buying insurance on their own the same advantage of pooling large numbers of customers that you get when you’re covered through your employer. If it’s working, then that’s something to celebrate.

Second, as Jonathan Cohn tells us, Wellpoint, one of the nation’s largest insurers, is reporting that exchange sign-ups are meeting their expectations; they have 400,000 new customers, and expect the number to rise to a million by the end of open enrollment. Even more critically, although their new customers are slightly older than the population as a whole, they expected this because people with a more pressing need for insurance would be the first to sign up, and they already incorporated that into their rates for this year. That means they’re unlikely to lose money, there is unlikely to be a huge rate spike next year, and the dreaded “death spiral” looks less and less likely.

This supports the contention I’ve had for some time, that in its first few years the Affordable Care Act is going to basically be fine—it may not create a health care paradise, but nor will it be the disaster conservatives are so fervently hoping for.

Before we get to sorting through what matters from what doesn’t, let’s look at the not-so-good political news. The Kaiser Family Foundation is out with their latest health care tracking poll, and there isn’t a lot to be glad about. More people have an unfavorable than a favorable view of the ACA. Most Americans are unaware that almost all the provisions of the law are now in force. And maybe most troubling, nearly half of Americans are still unaware of the law’s most popular provision, that insurance companies are no longer allowed to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions:

Before you say, “Obama should have told people about it!” I must remind you that during the last four years you spent away from Earth, the administration and its allies did in fact repeat over and over and over again that the ACA prohibits insurance companies from denying you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. There are many reasons why so many people haven’t yet understood, but you can’t say they didn’t try (you can read more about the myth of the bad sales job here).

In any case, here’s what we have to remember: On the scales of history, a person with a pre-existing condition who gets health coverage weighs much more than a person who doesn’t know that because of the ACA, people with pre-existing conditions can get health coverage. We spend so much time talking about politics that it’s easy to forget that politics are not an end in themselves, they’re a means to an end. Liberals advocated for comprehensive health insurance reform for so many decades not because it was politically advantageous (at some times it was, and at other times the voters didn’t seem to care), but because it was right. The fact that so many millions of Americans had no health security up until now was a moral obscenity. The ACA is beginning to fix things—slower and less completely than we might like, but it is a beginning. And if it never becomes the political boon you were hoping for, it was still the right thing to do.

That isn’t to say that political effects don’t matter, because they do. If the Republicans take over the Senate this fall, bad things would result, particularly if they also win the White House two years later, and if the ACA’s political troubles contributed to that turn of events, it would be unfortunate. But in the long run, what matters most is the effect on Americans’ lives. When you get distressed by a story about a Democratic member of Congress who’s in a tough race where her opponent is hitting her for supporting Obamacare, you can think of the families who never had health coverage before, but do now. For millions of people it will life-changing, and for many, literally life-saving. Try not to forget.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 30, 2014

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Insurance Companies: Guarding Health Is Not Their Business, But It Is Ours

If for one moment anyone has the notion that for-profit health insurance companies are in the business of guarding the health (or wealth) of policyholders, that notion ought to be quickly dismissed in favor of the truth.  For-profit health insurance giants guard profits.

I arrived outside the WellPoint annual shareholders meeting in a hotel in Indianapolis yesterday to be greeted by more guards (and some armed) than I have seen surrounding President Obama at times.  Apparently just the prospect of having some of the legal shareholders question the business practices and ethics of the WellPoint board and CEO Angela Braly was very scary for the company and its elite leaders.

Some of the shareholders have in recent years put forward a resolution supporting WellPoint’s return to its non-profit roots.  After last year’s meeting, the resolution earned 9.6 percent or 30,000,000 shareholder votes.  The current leadership doesn’t like that nor do they like the efforts of the shareholders who keep challenging them.

One shareholder asked Ms. Braly  at yesterday’s tightly controlled and guarded meeting, as a sort of speakers’ “shot clock” counted down her speaking time, “Tell me, Ms. Braly, could you please explain what you do that warrants a salary ($13.5 million annually) that is more than 375 public school teachers in Indiana earn?”  Braly’s answer was a classic.  No shot-clock running for the CEO as she explained that the board sets her compensation and it has to be competitive with the other comparable giants in the insurance industry.  It is a breathtaking demonstration of greed and hubris.

I wondered how we have allowed this country to amble onward to the point where 1,275 Americans who carry health insurance go bankrupt every single day (if the courts stayed open seven days a week) while an insurance company CEO like Angela Braly pockets $140,000 for her day’s salary.  Every day.

That’s quite a lot of money that doesn’t go to healthcare.  That’s quite a lot of money for one person to earn in one day.  That may be why such scary guards are needed outside WellPoint shareholder meetings – they wouldn’t want CEO Braly to have to mix it up with any of the policyholders or others who might question too directly what value the for-profit health insurance industry adds to the U.S. healthcare system.  I also wondered how much money those guards cost.  And the shot clocks to keep pesky questions to a minimum?  And how about the pro-Angela and pro-profit softball questions planted in the room?

WellPoint, like the other major insurance giants, can claim the best profits ever this year.  Times are good at the top.  Things are not so good for millions of Americans who want for decent healthcare within a system that provides a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care.  Medicare for all would be nice.  The American Health Security Act of 2011, S915/HR1200 as offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-WA, provides a model for moving forward.  Public financing (yes, a single payer system) coupled with public and private delivery (not a single provider).  No insurance giants paying huge board compensations and CEO salaries.  No armed guards protecting the profit.

Outside the City Market in Indianapolis, in the rain and with no need for guards, the advocates of healthcare sanity gathered – and I was thrilled to be among the Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan.  We affirmed our commitment to the work ahead and to one another.  We sang.  We are shareholders in a society that values more than profit – we value behaving justly and humanely, and we’d like a healthcare system that reflects that.

Forgive my repetition of the theme, but health insurance is not healthcare.  Health insurance is a financial product.  Health insurance is a financial product sold to protect health and wealth which may well do neither. Health insurance is a defective financial product for millions of people who made what we felt were responsible decisions about protecting ourselves and our families from financial or health disaster with health insurance products that have loopholes and flaws big enough to leave thousands dead every year and hundreds of thousands bankrupt.

I will never have the salary or earnings of insurance CEOs like WellPoint’s Angela Braly.  That’s OK by me because I’ll also, I hope, never need guards to keep those I have harmed and those I would harm from questioning me about why.  But, my life and the lives of my loved ones, my neighbors and my friends are surely as valuable in terms of access to healthcare in America in 2011.  The day will come.

By: Donna Smith, CommonDreams.org, May 18, 2011

May 18, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Health Care, Health Reform, Ideology, Insurance Companies, Politics, Public Health, Republicans, Single Payer, Under Insured, Uninsured, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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