The health care rollout is a fine mess.
By BARBARA SHELLY
The Kansas City Star
• Technological difficulties dragging down the online insurance marketplaces that are a pillar of the Affordable Care Act.
• Millions of people receiving cancellation notices from their insurers because their policies dont meet the requirements of the new health care law.
• Republicans in ecstasy and Democrats in panic because of President Barack Obamas oft-repeated promise that if you like your health plan you can keep it.
• And now, suggested fixes that will only make matters worse.
The media is flooded with stories of people who have received the dreaded cancellation notice, often with an offer to purchase a much more expensive plan. Ms. Consumer, a cancer patient, lost her policy and will have to pay four times as much to maintain coverage!
Thats shocking, all right, especially if the report omits two essential details. First, people in the individual insurance market, which is what were talking about, have always been vulnerable to price spikes and cancellations. Policies are renewed annually, and illnesses like cancer are almost always met with brutal repercussions.
Second, Ms. Consumer can enroll in the exchange without disclosing a pre-existing condition. She cannot be denied coverage or charged a higher rate than someone else in her age bracket. She will receive a better, more comprehensive policy and probably pay less than before. Ms. Consumer, in fact, is exactly the person whom the insurance exchanges, and the Affordable Care Act overall, were intended to help.
But she wont know that until she shops in the exchange. And right now thats a daunting task.
Another overlooked detail is that only a sliver of the U.S. population is affected by this. Five percent of Americans are in the individual market, and only 1 to 2 percent are being tossed out of the low-cost plans.
But the anti-Obamacare battalions are making sure that 2 percent is being portrayed as the most victimized group in Americas long and difficult health care story. It has everyones attention. And so, of course, there has to be a fix.
The gall of the Republican fixers must be mentioned. This is the group that, in the U.S. House, has voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare and return to the good old days in which sick people in the individual market had no protection whatsoever. Most of them voted for Congressman Paul Ryans budget plans, which would have kicked up to 20 million Americans off of Medicaid.
Now theyre all rallying behind Michigan Rep. Fred Uptons Keep Your Health Plan Act, which could just as well be called the Drive a Stake Through Obamacare Act. Hypocrisy at its zenith.
Upton proposes allowing insurers to continue to offer defective plans that dont meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act to new and existing customers. Because these low-cost plans are geared to young, healthy people, Uptons bill would leave the government insurance exchanges with older, sicker people, setting into motion the so-called death spiral.
Obama wants to allow insurers to extend current plans for one year, for existing customers only. Its better, but it still sets up the same imbalance. The president of Americas Health Insurance Plans put out a statement lambasting Obamas proposal before the president had even completed his news conference Thursday.
The best strategy would be for Obama and the Democrats to buckle up and ride out this storm. They need to fix the tech problems with the exchange and steer consumers there. They do not need to unravel the intricate health care law because 2 percent of the population is unhappy and Republicans are capitalizing on it.