Despite false alarms, health care law meets real needs

November 16, 2013 

One of the great ironies of the Affordable Care Act is that the law that seeks to help the sick inspires so much false injury.

Last week brought another round of hysterics from Republicans and a few skittish Democrats over the cancellations of “millions” of health care insurance policies making “a lie” of President Obama’s sweeping pledge that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”

With the uproar threatening his signature accomplishment, the president held a news conference to address the matter. He apologized for his pledge, apologized to Democrats up for re-election who echoed his promise and now face a backlash and he agreed to allow insurance companies to keep offering the canceled polices for another year. Bringing back canceled policies may have been a political necessity, but it could lead to further problems. New plans on the exchange were based on the assumption of a certain percentage of healthy customers. If many of them stay with their old policies, premiums for the exchange policies could rise sharply next year.

Obama’s concessions won’t appease Republicans obsessed with derailing the law they derisively call “Obamacare.” The very name betrays the real motive behind their relentless opposition. It’s not about health care. It’s about Obama.

To undermine the president they must find ways to undo the law that received not a single Republican vote. That means declaring every revision of the law or glitch in its rollout “a train wreck.” Beyond the mechanics, they ominously warn that the law is a collectivist threat to American freedom.

The Wall Street Journal summarized this view in a Friday editorial about the president’s concession headlined “ObamaCare’s Nonfix”: “None of this will change the fundamental Obamacare problem that Democrats are trying to remake a sixth of the U.S. economy by government fiat. They are trying to impose on Americans insurance they don’t want, at prices they don’t want to pay, while limiting their choice of doctors and hospitals. This is the reality of modern liberal government.”

Here we have window into the real problem with Obamacare – conservatives distorting it. Consider the reality. According to the Journal itself, 4.02 million people in 28 states have received policy discontinuation notices. The United States population is 314 million. The cancellations involve less than 2 percent of the country.

These cancellations affected only those who buy their own insurance. Most of the polices are for one year. Many are bridge policies people take out between jobs or for other reasons. There was relentless churn in this sector prior to the ACA and that included cancellations for people who made the offense of getting sick. Depicting the individual market as a stable environment of contented customers is a distortion. For many of the 4 million people affected, the ACA will bring better insurance at the same or a better price.

What fed the frenzy over cancellations was the botched launch of healthcare.gov. People were told their policies were being terminated and they couldn’t get through the website to see their options. That’s an uncomfortable situation and one for which Obama accepts full blame. But it’s also a temporary situation. The administration has promised the website will be running well by the end of this month. Once the options become clear, the panic should subside.

Despite what the conservatives say, the health care law isn’t a fiat to nationalize one-sixth of nation’s economy and strip Americans of their freedom of choice. It is a response – long overdue – to a lack of access to insurance that has left more than 40 million Americans uninsured and millions of others subject to whims of insurance companies that don’t want people who have preexisting medical conditions. It’s also an effort to bring down the ever-rising cost people with insurance pay.

It’s not a bad thing, really.

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