premiums would be as high if not higher than they are today and that coverage for many people with pre-existing medical conditions that purchase individual plans would be unaffordable or unavailable. But as we contemplate what would have been we should also dread what will be.
We will never know what the private health insurance market would look like today regarding cost and affordability if the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) never became law. However, there is every reason to believe that
Very soon, Republican elected officials will likely pass a health care bill, or tax bill if you prefer, that will return us to the health insurance status quo, but with a twist. The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) passed by the House and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) proposed by the Senate make the pre-Obamacare health care status quo look not so bad. The BCRA effectively makes individual health insurance plans worthless.
The Better Care Reconciliation Act allows health insurance companies to get away with paying barely half the cost of medical care while charging individual purchasers more than they currently pay in premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. These provisions in the bill are not just a case of more money for less coverage; they are an attempt to eliminate the individual market for all but the wealthy. Furthermore, these features of the bill are a way for the government to pay less in premium subsidies because people who can't afford these skimpy plans will drop out of the individual market altogether.
This Law (BCRA) Stinks
When Bill Clinton called Obamacare, "the craziest thing in the world," he was referring to the fact that the law offered no financial help to purchase health insurance for millions of individuals. These are people like me that didn't qualify for Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid, Medicare or the employer health insurance tax exclusion. We have to pay 100% of the cost of our health insurance even though most of us are not wealthy. Meanwhile, Obamacare supporters, especially the ones responsible for administering the ACA, downplayed the size of this group or claimed that they would get around to helping us eventually.
After winning the majority of seats in the House and Senate and electing a Republican president, Republican officials seized on Bill Clinton's statement claiming their health care reform bill would eliminate the craziness. Continue Reading...
Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), America had not had a conversation about health care policy in decades. So it's understandable that many elected officials lacked knowledge about America's health care system and assumed it was performing as intended. From what they understood the health care status quo met the needs of the wealthy, professional and middle classes. And the poor, elderly and veterans had government-provided insurance.
But looks can be deceiving; individuals without any group-provided insurance were left to the mercy of the health insurance market. A market that left over 40 million of them uninsured. Obamacare came along and upset the peace of health care policy reform at the best and worst possible time.
It was the best time for an Obamacare-type law because about 40 million Americans did not have health insurance and Obamacare provided coverage to almost 40% of them. And it was the worst time for an Obamacare-type law because the country was and is so divided on most major public policy issues. Major health care reform was introduced in a politically polarized era that became even more polarized when Trump won the presidential election, and the Republicans won a majority of Senate and House seats.
More Than A House Divided
The Republican/conservative health care policy stance is much more splintered than it is among Democrats/liberals. Democrats want Medicare or Medicaid for All, universal health care or single payer. Or maybe they just want more federal funding for the Obamacare exchanges. It depends on which group of Democrats you ask, but at least they all want a health care reform policy that expands coverage to all Americans, Republicans disagree with Democrats on the very definition of universal access to health care. Remember when the Republican Party stupidly referred to health insurance/care access as "freedom?"
But idiotic catchwords aside, Republicans and conservatives also disagree with each other on the policy goals of health care reform. First, there is Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell's (a real life villain) view that replacing Obamacare is the ultimate policy goal. He couldn't care less about the contents of any health bill and its impact on the public. His only health care reform policy objective is to convince enough Republican senators to pass an Obamacare repeal bill quickly. Continue Reading...
Americans Never Really Wanted A Fairer Health Care System, And They're Not Going To Get One Anytime Soon
A recent New York Times article laments the "halfhearted opposition" to the pending passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA, aka Trumpcare) by powerful groups such as doctors, nurses, hospitals and patient advocates. Health policy experts condemn the "fast-tracking" of the ACHA in the Senate. And the Jeff Sessions' hearings and other Russia collusion noise, crowd out national reporting on the AHCA as the Senate is weeks away from passing their health care reform bill.
The AHCA passed by Congress and currently undergoing revisions in the Senate, rewards the healthy and wealthy and punishes the sick and poor. Some people are appalled and baffled by the impending passage of legislation that brings more inequality into an already unequal system. Isn't it more sensible to provide the most financial assistance to people that need the most health care? Well this is America, where a near majority believes it's okay that the rich can afford better health care than the poor.
The Poor Cost Too Much
Many people think the sick are responsible for their illness(es) due to their engagement in "voluntary health risks" or "changeable behaviors." Never heard these terms before? Me neither. I guess using the term unhealthy lifestyle didn't sufficiently make the point that sickness is a choice, and an expensive one at that.
By some estimates an unhealthy lifestyle cost hundreds of billions of dollars each year in medical care. A recent study contracted by General Electric estimated the cost of cancer care due to an unhealthy lifestyle at around $34 billion per year. Other studies put the annual costs of treating alcohol abuse at an estimated $176 billion, smoking at $137 billion and obesity at $147 billion (2008 number for obesity). These issues—cancer, alcohol abuse, smoking and obesity—costs nearly a half trillion dollars in health care each year.
But cost concerns are not what allow the Republican Congress and Senate to easily take away health insurance from the sick and poor. The truth is that despite the passionate town halls, we don't want the poor to live as long as the wealthy. We would save money if they did not. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of the AHCA, that savings is about $3 billion, to start (represents reduction in Social Security payments due to early deaths). Continue Reading...
Overpricing andovercharging minorities and the poor in hospital ERs; health care specialists are driving up the cost of care; Mylan is waiting out the outrage over its high-cost Epipen and continuing its price gouging, and major health insurance companies settling multi-million dollar Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases with the government. The American health care system is a disaster and a disgrace. Greed and self-interest are its fuel. It's opaque. It's irredeemable.
And, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) trying to work with and maintain the American health care system, only highlighted all its ills. But at least the Democrats engaged in a comprehensive and intensive effort to improve one of America's biggest problems. Unfortunately, you can't say the same about the Republicans. From the start, and I'll give them credit for not lying about how vile the process would be, Republicans engaged in health care reform sausage making. Their health care reform plan consists of a three-step sausage making process—gut as much of Obamacare (cut taxes) via reconciliation, eliminate health care reform regulations, pass general health care regulation through the normal legislative process.
And like most sausage making, the Republican health care reform work is occurring out of sight. There are no experts to advise on the combination and impact of different policy options. In fact, Republicans in the Senate decided not to send their reform proposals through committees and instead assigned 13 Senators to review the House bill for further tweaking. This not-at-all discriminating approach to health policy reform all but guarantees an unappetizing product for millions. There should be no expectation of a Senate health care reform bill that is much better than the bill signed by the House. In fact, the Senate bill may be even worse than the House bill.
Initially, House Republicans were transparent about their health care reform bill. They made it clear that the Obamacare repeal law, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was step one of a 3-step process to replace Obamacare. They collaborated with the Health & Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, to sell the proposed law to the public. And, lastly, they waited for the CBO score before deciding not to vote on the legislation. In the end, transparency was political poison for the House, and they resorted to secret meetings and hiding drafts of the revised proposal. The result was a reform bill that was just as bad as the first one but easier to pass politically. Republican senators have no desire to repeat the mistakes of their House colleagues. There will be no false starts on voting and no or little sharing of policy details before the vote, and there will be a vote and the bill will pass.
A Senate version of the AHCA will look a lot like the House version, but with a longer timeline to implement its awfulness. Expect, Continue Reading...