The news that health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act are going up is not surprising. Indeed, North Carolinians who get insurance through the federal health care exchange already knew about the average 25 percent premium increase. And, they knew that the choices among companies are narrowing as well; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will be the only company offering coverage under the ACA in all 100 counties.
But the gleeful gloating of people such as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, that this is the end of “Obamacare,” that it is a failure, is simply wrong. Most of the people who’ll see the premium increases won’t feel them much, because they get government subsidies to help them get their insurance. And is the ACA a failure for people whose lives may have been saved because they’ve had health insurance for the first time in their lives and can now afford to see a doctor regularly rather than rely on care in hospital emergency rooms? Is it a failure for those who have insurance even though they have medical problems that would have caused them to be denied at private companies? Is it a failure for those young people who were able, under the ACA, to stay on their parents’ policies until the age of 26?
The ACA is not a failure, no matter how badly Republicans want it to fail. And those same Republicans who say they want to “repeal and replace” Obamacare have virtually no viable ideas to “replace” it. They just want to kill it. They want to wipe from the books a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration.
The Republicans on a national level, of course, are desperate for an issue that can distract people from the disastrous, imploding campaign of Trump. So they’ll certainly use the White House acknowledgment of growing premiums to their advantage. But Americans must remember the political context of their criticisms, and remember as well that before President Obama courageously pushed health care reform, tens of thousands of Americans, perhaps millions, were at risk of losing everything they had to health care expenses, including their homes and savings.
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Obamacare is not a government-run, single-payer health care system, though frankly such systems work in many or most industrialized countries in the world. But the ACA was designed to use the private insurance system, in cooperation with the government, to help millions of Americans (now about 20 million) get health insurance and thus get health care.
Does Obamacare need tweaking? Of course. What brand new program would not? But unfortunately, a Republican Congress would never cooperate to ensure lower drug prices, or to strengthen the law’s penalties for those young, healthy adults who don’t sign up for insurance and opt to pay a penalty for being uninsured. The GOP simply digs in its heels and promises repeal — which would, by the way, return millions and millions of Americans to the rolls of the uninsured and to the mercies of the for-profit insurance industry that previously rejected them.
Rather than fall for the shameless, angry partisan rhetoric of the naysayers, Americans would be wiser to install in Congress people, Republicans or Democrats, who want to help the ACA work, not watch it fail.
Millions of people are healthier, and for that matter alive, thanks to the ACA than they would have been without it. That premiums are going up isn’t good news. But it isn’t a death knell, either, and it’s dishonest of the president’s critics to say or even insinuate that it is.