The Affordable Care Act surpasses goals in NC

May 3, 2014 

CORRECTION: This editorial previously misstated Blue Cross Blue Shield's membership number. BCBS has 3.84 million members in North Carolina. Correction made Monday, May 5, 2014.

To hear the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina tell it, “Obamacare” is about the worst thing that ever happened to the people of America and certainly North Carolina. They’ll repeal and replace it, they say, or certainly repeal it, and leave consumers to the wonderful world of the free market.

Interesting. And how was that free market working for people before President Obama helped create the Affordable Care Act? Well, those with illnesses or pre-existing conditions as the insurance companies called them either could not get or could not afford insurance coverage.

Young people just out of college and without full-time work were simply out of luck because they couldn’t get employer-based health care.

Older citizens had to pay many times more for health coverage just because of their ages.

Sick children were in some cases uncoverable.

And through it all, health care costs were skyrocketing.

It is to that world, apparently, that all four GOP candidates running for incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan’s seat wish to return. Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon, Heather Grant and Mark Harris all pronounce Obamacare – they prefer that political moniker to the Affordable Care Act – a failure and say they would put killing it on the top of their agenda as senator.

Overwhelming success

But here’s the problem with the Republican rant. It has been outrun by Obamacare’s successes.

Medical costs are still growing, but the rate is slowing. The federal deficit, which Republicans predicted would explode under Obamacare, is dropping. Insurance premiums? Yes, they’ve increased for some policy holders, but as more younger, healthier people get insurance – which they’re required to do under the ACA or pay a fine – the expense for others will decline.

And the catastrophic “job killing” consequences of Obamacare that Republicans predicted? The federal Department of Labor said Friday that 288,000 jobs were created in April, a two-year high.

Yes, there were problems with the rollout of the insurance exchanges over last fall, and that was inexcusable. Once the online exchange got going, however, a catastrophe was averted.

In fact, in North Carolina, enrollments in health insurance surged to 357,000 as the eligibility deadline arrived. The state is now the fifth-highest in the nation in terms of the number of enrollments.

That’s all the more astonishing considering that Republicans in control of the General Assembly rejected the state’s participation in a cooperative health care exchange, leaving it all to the federal government, and turned down extension of Medicaid coverage to several hundred thousand more citizens, even though the federal government would have paid the costs.

And in Florida, where Republicans also have fought against Obamacare, there was a boom in signups, bringing the state to nearly a million enrollees.

It’s not too late

Even insurers, including the state’s largest, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, recognize that Obamacare, after a rough start and some ongoing problems, has been good for many people.

Brad Wilson, president and CEO of BCBS of North Carolina, said in a recent interview that the ACA “is not operating as perfectly as some hoped, but it’s working much, much better than its harshest critics said.”

BCBS has 3.84 million members in North Carolina. Yet Wilson said he wasn’t asked by legislative leaders whether the state should participate in the ACA.

Medicaid expansion would have been a smart move for North Carolina, Wilson said. “It needed to be expanded while working on improving it. We can decide we’re going to pay for (indigent care) in a rational way, and Medicaid is one of those ways.”

It is not too late for North Carolina to set up a state-based health care exchange online to make it easier for people to get insurance, and it’s also not too late for the state to embrace Medicaid expansion.

In standing pat against those ideas, Republican candidates are headed in what more and more Americans believe is the wrong direction. For millions of Americans, Obamacare is a lifeline.

In what universe does that not mean good things for these people and this country?

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