Friday, August 29, 2014

HEINTZ: Flawed start to a better health care system

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 11/13/2013

Much of the criticism aimed at President Obama’s administration for its glitch-filled launch of healthcare.gov has merit.

Conservatives are right to accuse the president of lying when he told Americans the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, wouldn’t force people to be removed from their current health care plan if they didn’t want to be.

Much of the criticism aimed at President Obama’s administration for its glitch-filled launch of healthcare.gov has merit.

Conservatives are right to accuse the president of lying when he told Americans the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, wouldn’t force people to be removed from their current health care plan if they didn’t want to be.

“No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people,” Obama told the American Medical Association in 2009. “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take that away. No matter what.”

That was a lie, pure and simple. We now know a portion of the small percentage of Americans — about 5 percent — who buy their own insurance instead of obtaining it via an employer or a government program now face higher premium prices or are being told by their insurers that their policies will be canceled because their plans don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The anger and disillusionment these people feel is understandable and justified.

Even though this group only represents a small slice of the American electorate, it still numbers in the millions. According to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is overseeing the healthcare.gov website, this group will face higher premium policies, but they will receive more complete coverage than they have before. In addition, many of them will qualify for public subsidies to help pay for the premiums.

So should, as so many Republicans vociferously called for, the Affordable Care Act be repealed? No.

Despite its obvious flaws, the positive aspects of the Affordable Care Act outweigh the negatives. Because of the health care law, Americans no longer can be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. And as economist Dean Baker pointed out in an article published by the Huffington Post, most people who sign up for the state level exchanges, which are virtual stores where people can shop for polices, will qualify for public subsidies based on their income and family size. That means the cost of insurance will be less than the advertised price.

“This is good news,” Baker wrote. “It means that tens of millions of people who are uninsured now will likely be insured in the next year or two as a result of the Affordable Care Act.”

But, Baker writes, this isn’t even the most important aspect of health care reform. He points out that for the first time Americans who currently have health insurance won’t have to shop for individual insurance if they get sick or lose their jobs. Now, instead of getting health care in the individual market and paying tens of thousands in premiums, sick, unemployed Americans will have access to affordable insurance. Plus, older Americans who are in poor health and are forced to work because they are still a couple of years away from being eligible for Medicare benefits and they can’t afford insurance on the individual market can now retire early and still have access to affordable care.

The Affordable Care Act has its flaws — a single-payer system or the addition of a public option to compete with private insurers would have been better, though neither option was politically feasible — but the health reform law is better than the status quo and represents a positive step forward toward a day when everyone has access to affordable health insurance.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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