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The President has taken a hit to his approval rating recently, and the media keeps pointing to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as the culprit. The video replay of the President saying, “If you like you’re plan, you can keep it,” is ubiquitous, juxtaposed against the stories of people receiving notifications that their insurance plans are being cancelled. The media eats it up as they dig up both real stories of people who have been dropped from their insurance or a whole host of easily fact-checked stories that turn out to be pure misinformation. Republicans are licking their lips, thinking that Obamacare is sinking; they believe they will finally get a chance to reclaim voters who have turned away from their radical agenda and foolish behavior. However, Rachel Maddow presented an excellent segment dissecting this argument, and it turns out that people are slowly increasing their approval of Obamacare, not increasingly rejecting it. The polls show that since the rollout, the approval numbers of the Affordable Care Act have risen from 44% to 47% according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll and have risen from 37% to 44% according to Gallup. Considering that the Gallup Poll predicted a Romney win, it’s worth considering if their results don’t have a conservative bias as well. Given the admittedly botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website, the perceived “broken promise” by the President, and the non-stop negative media coverage, most Americans could be giving up on healthcare reform, but they are still willing to give it a chance. Meanwhile, the true villains in the healthcare reform saga, the ones who made the President’s words about “keeping your insurance” incorrect -insurance companies— are being protected by most media outlets.
As soon as the shutdown ended, the media needed the next big story to fill air time. The problems with healthcare.gov were ready-made for ridicule and non-stop derision. It wasn’t just the conservative media, either; the mainstream media piled on as well. Of course, the federal website wouldn’t have had so many people to serve if there weren’t so many states refusing to set up their own exchanges. Had they done so, there may well have been far fewer people encountering the website glitches. It’s true some states with their own state health care exchanges did experience problems with their website (e.g. Oregon). However, many other states have had a successful start-up for their health care exchange website. For that reason, Kentucky has been showcased as a success story, because not only is it a red state with a functioning healthcare website, it bucked the conservative trend of throwing a tantrum and refusing to set up a state health exchange.
After the website was old news, the media began searching for horror stories related to the implementation of Obamacare. Fox News was quick to bring on guests that allegedly had lost their health insurance and were going to have to pay dramatically higher premiums to replace their policies. Of course, when fact-checked, a significant percentage of these stories fell apart. By now, we all know that there are people being dropped from their plans, but often because they had really crappy plans that really didn’t cover anything meaningful. The remaining stories of woe need to be reckoned with, but this must be done honestly, and the truth is, insurance companies, not the Affordable Care Act, are responsible for a lot of the misery people are attributing to healthcare reform.
Joshua Holland explains,
“Far too many breathless news stories about insurance plans being “canceled” or people facing “sticker shock” fail to convey even the most basic context: this is almost exclusively a phenomenon of the individual insurance market, which covers between 5 to 6 percent of the population.”
Holland further notes that about half of this population is going to end up buying a policy similar to what they already had for a price similar to what they were already paying. However, about 3% of Americans are going to end up paying for more insurance coverage than they want to and are likely to experience a premium increase. Yet, this means that 97% of Americans will experience virtually no effect or a positive effect on their insurance coverage and premium. Listening to the media, one would think it was 80% of the population that was having a negative impact from the Affordable Care Act.
Conservatives are also trying to be as alarmist as possible about the notion that people will not be able to see the providers they choose. The dramatic case everyone is talking about appeared in the Wall Street Journal where a woman with cancer had a policy cancelled, and the remaining options didn’t allow her to see all of her previous providers. Bob Cesca notes,
“UnitedHealthcare, one of the most notorious insurance providers before the ACA was passed, responsible for canceling policies and penalizing customers, decided to voluntarily bail out of the individual insurance game as a matter of corporate strategy. In doing so, it could avoid taking on less healthy customers early in the exchange sign-up process, forcing other insurers to absorb the risk. Clever. And sinister.”
Who really forced this woman to lose access to her array of providers? Obamacare? No. Her insurance company? Yes! Furthermore, Igor Volsky of Think Progress writes,
“Since 15 million people or just 5 percent of the population purchases health insurance policies on the individual market and more than 80 percent don’t stay on the same plan for more than two years in a row, the individuals who will be affected by “provider shock” were changing providers almost every year before reform.”
Yet, another “catastrophe” that turns out to be a non-issue.
So, what do we make of the 3% who are feeling they’ve been wronged by Obamacare? This is where the underhanded, greedy behavior of insurance companies matters. Perhaps they aren’t trying to sabotage healthcare reform, but it certainly seems that way. Jason Linkins explains that these companies were required to leave the healthcare plans in place that people already had before the Affordable Care Act. In other words, when healthcare reform passed, everyone’s plans were grandfathered in…until any change was made to the policy. At that point, the insurance company was free to do as it pleased, including cancelling policies or increasing premiums. Here’s the catch: the insurance companies could force policies to change, and thus lose their grandfathered status, by simply making small changes in coverage. Then, they tell policyholders to purchase their new, more expensive plan, without telling them about the health care exchanges and the possibility of cheaper options. For example, Anthem Blue Cross of California, who is currently being sued, sent deceptive letters to policyholders suggesting they switch plans specifically with the intent of making the policyholders lose their grandfathered status.
In terms of profits, the health insurance industry is sitting pretty. These companies have already threatened to raise premiums on small businesses and the individual insurance market by 25% to 116% in 2014. Everyone seems to forget, these companies were infamous for dropping people, raising rates astronomically, changing coverage, and generally mistreating policyholders long before Obamacare. If it’s anyone that Americans should target with their anger and outrage, it’s the same culprits it’s always been, health insurance companies.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.