This too shall pass
Yes, the website sucks. But Obamacare itself is doing what it’s supposed to do
Published: October 30, 2013
At 6 a.m. on Oct. 2, Daniel McNaughton, a 22-year-old Valencia College student, logged on to healthcare.gov and signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange. McNaughton’s parents are on Medicare, so he’s not eligible to stay on their policy. For the last three years, he’s had catastrophic coverage, the kind of insurance that permits him three doctor visits a year, for which he paid $70 a month. As of Jan. 1, he’ll have a new plan with a host of heretofore-unattainable benefits, for which (after subsidies) he’ll also pay about $70 a month.
McNaughton’s the exception, not the rule. You’re more likely to read stories like that of Bob Poe, the former Florida Democratic Party chairman, who last week tried to purchase insurance on the exchange only to run into a thoroughly dysfunctional website. Or that of Orlando insurance agent Michael G. Grace, who had a hellish experience trying to walk a client through the online marketplace. He bounced from an unhelpful live chat session to an unhelpful telephone operator, only to have the system log his client off and erase all of the data he’d been entering for the past hour.
These are the stories making headlines – and giving aid and comfort to Republicans who have vowed to wipe Obamacare off the books.
On one level it’s amusing to watch the same people who equate the Affordable Care Act with tyranny complain that it’s not working well enough. On another, they have a point. There’s no denying that the website is a fuckup. What was supposed to be fully operational on Oct. 1 will now, we’re told, be mostly operational by the end of November.
But it isn’t President Obama’s Iraq or Katrina or Titanic or whatever the cable news comparison du jour is. Social Security had a mangled rollout. So did the Supplemental Security Income program in the 1970s. So did President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D expansion. They all survived. This will too, provided the administration gets it fixed.
So far, most of the 14 states that have set up their own online marketplaces are doing just fine. And on at least one score Obamacare is outperforming expectations. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, premiums in the exchanges are considerably below projections, which means that over the next decade the government will save about $190 billion on subsidies, boosting the law’s deficit reduction by 174 percent.
While it’s true that some people will lose their current coverage – Florida Blue recently cancelled 300,000 policies, news Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans have feverishly harped on – these policies are mostly being dropped because they don’t meet basic minimum requirements like emergency care, mental health and prescriptions. This is a good thing: Those customers will migrate into better policies, probably at better prices.
Bob Poe, for instance, right now pays $866 a month for what he describes as lackluster insurance. Once the exchange is working, he’ll be able to buy a top-shelf platinum plan for as little as $458 a month. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
Were it not for Obamacare, Vincent Mutia, a 24-year-old political science major at the University of Central Florida, couldn’t afford insurance. He’s a full-time student with pre-existing conditions. Individual insurance is way too expensive for him, so instead he relied on UCF’s campus health services.
Mutia finally broke through the healthcare.gov logjam and bought a silver-level policy for about $200 a month.
Because he’s not working, Mutia is ineligible for subsidies. He’s lucky. He has supportive parents and some savings, so he can afford his plan. There are more than 750,000 Floridians, however, who aren’t as fortunate. They don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies on the exchange, but also don’t qualify for Medicaid because the Republican state legislature blocked the program’s expansion earlier this year, basically to stick it to the president. That’s a disgrace that far surpasses any website glitch.
> Email Jeffrey C. Billman