Obamacare combat won't derail system's success
The countdown begins for Obamacare, with Republicans still hoping to derail health care reform before the Oct. 1 launch of the "exchanges" -- a moment in time when Democrats believe that low rates and numerous shopping opportunities for the uninsured will forever change the nation's insurance marketplace.
In anticipation, a hyperpartisan frenzy is underway. Both sides realize that once the public gets a look at the exchanges, the game is over. In recent days, anti-Obamacare TV ads aired by conservative groups were countered by liberal organizations that launched an ad campaign touting the health care reforms. Some of the nation's most powerful unions backpedaled rapidly from their Obamacare support and some House Democrats also bailed out.
Three years after the Affordable Care Act became law, Republican congressional leaders successfully bullied the National Football League and several other professional sports associations to abandon plans to feature star athletes in public service announcements explaining the ACA benefits in advance of the Oct. 1 launch of the three-month sign-up period.
As Democratic support for the ACA wavers, 22 House Democrats voted on Wednesday for a one-year delay in the insurance-coverage mandate for individuals. Smelling blood in the water, the GOP sharks cleverly arranged for a meaningless vote on the business mandate delay -- already a certainty due to Obama's decree -- followed immediately by a proposal to delay the individual mandate in an equal manner.
The Democratic defections on Capitol Hill included nervous lawmakers such as Rep. Gary Peters, who is seeking a political promotion to Michigan senator in the 2014 elections. Apparently Peters was jittery about falling into the GOP trap -- labeled as a congressman who wants a delay for businesses but not individuals.
In a speech on Thursday, Obama vowed to "blow through" the GOP zealotry by emphasizing ACA consumer rebates that now total $1.6 billion over two years. Those rebates compensate consumers whose health insurer spends excess amounts on overhead and advertising and executive pay.
Obama also benefits from early indications that, because of direct competition among insurers, state exchanges will offer substantially lower insurance rates than expected in California and will cut individual rates by 50 percent or more in New York state.
Tragically missing from the crux of the House debate is the fact that less than 4 percent of U.S.companies are affected by the impending Obamacare mandate. Only 2.5 percent of the population will seek health insurance coverage on the exchanges.
The new law applies only to companies with 50 or more full-time employees (or 100 or more part-timers). Nearly 95 percent of employers in that category already offer health care coverage.
At the same time that some congressional Democrats were resorting to a CYA approach, prominent unions such as the Teamsters also were backsliding, issuing a letter to Congress full of histrionics about the law destroying the labor vs. business balance and threatening the 40-day workweek.
Another Michigan representative, GOP Congresswoman Candice Miller, jumped on the union opposition, claiming that labor leaders finally realized that Obamacare is a "job killer.' In reality, the big unions are most concerned about an ACA threat to the health care plans that they created and administer for groups of employees they represent. These plans are little more than mini-monopolies distorting the health insurance marketplace.
As for employers who are cutting workers' hours to 30 per week, the labor movement would be better suited to pressure or boycott companies that attempt this short-circuiting of the process.
Public pressure worked last year against several fast-food companies that initially tried to dodge the requirements. Most prominent was Papa John's pizza, which railed against the ACA rules mandating basic health care coverage. The company's supremely wealthy CEO complained that Obamacare would raise the prices of his pizzas by 14 cents -- and the public laughed. I suspect most Americans would be willing to pay an additional 14 cents for a pizza pie if it meant that the pizzeria workers would receive health care and become free of the anxiety of living within the ranks of the uninsured.
I can't help but compare the poisoned political atmosphere of July 2013 to the 2006 implementation of a similar government program, Medicare Part D, which provided prescription drug coverage for senior citizens. That rollout was messy to say the least, with millions of seniors confused about their new benefits. Thousands of public forums were held across the nation to help retirees determine which private drug plan suited them best. Seniors stood in lines at these ad-hoc assistance centers, and chartered buses brought in dozens at a time. Yet, it never was denigrated as a "train wreck,' nor faced harsh partisan criticism. Certainly no one on Capitol Hill proposed repealing or defunding the law.
But now we're talking about politics, 2013-style. Some 26 states have refused to approve the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare for the "working poor." The health care exchanges were rejected by 33 states, with our politicians there preferring to engage in a federal "cookie cutter" approach to the online marketplaces rather than fashioning an exchange for their constituents' maximum benefit.
Stepping back, after decades of debate about how to reduce America's embarrassing ranks of the uninsured, Obamacare, modeled after a conservative concept, is the best, though imperfect, answer. The tea party groups and ultraconservative Republicans seem to have no interest in closing that gap that has now reached 50 million uninsured. They also provide no alternatives to the nation's employer-based health care system for workers that offers employees virtually no say in what type of coverage they receive. For the first time, the Obamacare exchanges will offer at least some Americans the opportunity to choose the health care plan that they desire, one that fits their needs. Free market competition and consumer freedom of choice -- that's a solid foundation on which to build a better health care system.
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