Affordable Health Care Is No Where In Sight

Don't be fooled. After finally agreeing to pay the August Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers, Trump and corrupt Secretary of Health & Human Services, Tom Price, remain committed to destroying Obamacare. Their goals are to pay less in subsidies that help people purchase individual health insurance plans and pay for medical care, and to scare health insurers away from the exchanges by injecting uncertainty about future subsidy payments.

Unfortunately, and despite the latest CSR payment, Trump and Price's sinister plot to undermine Obamacare is having the intended effect. Because health insurers cannot be certain that this Administration will not stall or stop future subsidy payments, they will increase rates by a higher percentage than they otherwise would have. And when health insurers feel uncertain and are afraid they won't meet their financial objectives, they take it out on everyone. That means health insurance premiums may be higher for everyone next year, even employer-sponsored group health plans.

But that is not all on Trump and Price. Their childish, mean-spirited antics only highlight a fundamental problem with a for-profit, private sector led health insurance industry. You see, American health insurers have always insisted that their profits be assured. Taking a loss in one line of business (selling to individuals) and making it up in another line (employer-sponsored and other group insurance), but still making an overall profit, is viewed as a loss for them. They want all of their lines of business to be profitable all of the time.

Even if Trump and Price admit that the Republican health care reform efforts have failed, that they will now honestly administer the Obamacare law as intended, and promise to make all future CSR payments on time, insurers will still raise rates higher than are needed until they feel comfortable that their profits will continue. How long will they wait until they are comfortable that their profits are not in imminent danger? They will wait as long as they want to, which is forever, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Health Insurers Will Always Inflate Premiums

It is so disingenuous for Obamacare critics to imply that the health insurance market was ok or even better before Obamacare. How they ignore or explain away that purchasing individual health insurance pre-Obamacare was hit or miss or that finding comprehensive and affordable coverage was impossible is beyond my comprehension.

Purchasing individual health insurance pre-Obamacare was a long and difficult experience. First, you had to find a reputable insurer that sold individual plans, and then you had to work with an insurance broker to apply and purchase the policy because you couldn't work directly with the insurer. And that describes the not too bad parts of that old way of purchasing insurance. The fact that tens of millions could not purchase individual health insurance, some because they didn't want to, but many because they were denied or couldn't afford it, tells you everything you need to know about why Obamacare or something like it was bound to happen.
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Maybe "Low" Medicaid Rates Are What We Should Be Paying To Make Health Care Affordable For All

I recently read a comment on social media from a doctor equating accepting Medicare and Medicaid to (a doctor) signing her slavery agreement. And as insulting and inaccurate (slaves didn't sign agreements!) as this statement is, the sentiment is not too far off from what many doctors in America share. Doctors often refer to Medicaid as charity work.

The claim that Medicaid reimbursements do not cover the cost of care is near universal.
Some specialists claim they make about $8/hr. treating Medicaid enrollees. Others publish a sampling of their Medicaid reimbursement payments online to show Medicaid paying less than $5 for care billed at $400. Of course, they never share all of the information about a claim, just enough to "prove" their narrative of poverty inducing Medicaid rates.

physician complaints about Medicaid are the same as the ones they have about private insurance; they just hate Medicaid (and Medicare) more because of the lower reimbursement rates. For all payers, doctors complain about jumping through hoops to get paid, late payments, paperwork, and regulations. Some doctors have also complained about the behavior of Medicaid patients (don't exactly know what they mean by that).

Unfortunately, doctors and hospitals can get away with their Medicaid-rates-are-too-low claims because they are the ones setting the rates. And, as we know, they charge different rates for different groups of patients—Medicare, Medicaid, patients with private health insurance, patients without private health insurance, etc. But these rates aren't related to actual costs because a doctor's time and effort are never measured. So doctors cannot prove Medicaid rates don't cover the cost of their services. Still, that doesn't stop them from demonizing Medicaid, but the reality is that doctors don't like any program or law that controls the fees they can charge or requires them to meet certain standards.

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Obamacare Supporters Divide Into Groups To Protect Their Interests, But Not Everyone Is Represented

There's a lot of speculation about which group of Americans will be hurt the most by impending Republican health care reform legislation. People with preexisting conditions may see these exclusions return in some form. People with life-threatening medical conditions requiring expensive medical care may see the return of annual/lifetime limits. Group health plans may see their tax-favored plans altered and made less attractive. And freelancers and entrepreneurs may be forced to return to traditional employment, if available.

Everyone that is not wealthy enough to pay for health insurance or fortunate enough to have someone else pay for it has a reason to be concerned about Republican changes to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). And that's because health care reform is just an unwanted political exercise to Republicans. Made necessary by a law, that despite its shortcomings had a larger goal of providing affordable, comprehensive health insurance to all Americans.

Things Are Different Now

Oddly, not repealing Obamacare is more popular than the law itself. A lot has changed since the law's inception in 2010. While Republican lawmakers waited and tried to hasten the law's collapse by ending funding for the risk corridor program, something else happened—lives were saved. Cancer diagnoses that would never have occurred did. People with life altering mental illnesses started receiving treatment that allowed them to be more productive. Various artists obtained insurance for the first time in decades. The Obamacare death spiral that House Speaker Paul Ryan was so hoping for and wrongly claims is upon us didn't happen soon enough.

There are just too many Obamacare success stories getting in the way of the GOP narrative that every single component of the law has been a total failure. Not that Republican lawmakers are not trying to continue to push the narrative of Obamacare as the dumbest law ever passed by the government. They've even gone so far as to claim paid protesters are behind the current, vocal swell of support for the law, and are giving shout-outs to their well-funded and well-organized protesters to counter this support. This Retweet from the Heritage Foundation says it all:

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Republicans Need Help "Fixing" Obamacare, We Should Offer Some

Last week's Republican House and Senate retreat in Philadelphia revealed what we already knew; they don't have a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). This week there were reports that some Republicans have given up on repeal and replace and want to “fix” Obamacare instead. Also, this week, shady Congressman Tom Price came one step closer to becoming Secretary of Health & Human Services when the Senate Finance Committee approved his nomination without Democratic support.

It's been a frustrating week for Obamacare supporters concerned about the future of health insurance and health care in America. Every statement about health care reform, even if it is a repeat of what's been said before is scrutinized for new meaning. But for now, we are in limbo, and that is not a bad thing. Things could be worse. We should use this time to put forth some ideas on health care reforml.

Obamacare Could Be Better

Everyone agrees that Obamacare plans could be better—more affordable and there should be more of them. Also, there's majority agreement that some provisions of Obamacare are keepers, like no prohibitions on coverage for preexisting conditions, keeping dependent children on employer-provided plans up to age 26, and receiving subsidies to pay for coverage. But these goodies cost money and require trade-offs. So knowing that Republicans would prefer the government get out of the health insurance business, what suggestions would you give them if they were forced to stay in it. Keeping in mind that you can't get everything you want.

Protests are fine, but how can we improve Obamacare when we know universal coverage is out of the cards in this new Republican reality?

First, agree not to turn Medicaid over to the states via block grant or any other program. States may know their constituents better than the federal government, but equality often comes in a distant second to state budget priorities. We can't trust states to cover everyone who needs Medicaid. We also can't trust them to regulate the quality of care Medicaid recipients receive. Medicaid patients wait longer to see a doctor and get a lower quality of care than patients with private insurance.

Instead of Medicaid block grants or any other state-based Medicaid program, the federal government should run the Medicaid program just like it does with Medicare. Everyone gets the same benefits, and medical providers must meet predetermined quality standards in exchange for higher reimbursement levels.

There is no way for the government, federal or state, to get around paying for health care for the poor. States can assist in this effort by addressing the poverty in their communities, but they should stay out of the health care business for the poor.
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