"WE HAVE to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last spring about her party's 2,000-page health-care overhaul. She was right about that -- but what she didn't realize was that the more Americans found out about ObamaCare, the more they would turn against it. Virtually from the day it was signed, a majority of Americans have favored repealing the massive law. According to two polls released this past week -- one a national survey by Rasmussen, the other a poll of key congressional districts for The Hill -- they still do.
So naturally congressional incumbents are touting their opposition to the health-care law.
Pennsylvania's Jason Altmire has one TV spot in which a woman says approvingly: "You saw him when he voted against health care." Virginia congressman Glenn Nye plays up the way he "took on Congress . . . voting against the health-care bill because it cost too much." South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth Sandlin makes the same point in a humorous commercial starring her 22-month-old toddler, Zachary. Ads with similar messages have been aired by US Representatives Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Walt Minnick of Idaho, and Bobby Bright of Alabama. Plenty of Republicans are playing up their vote against the unpopular law -- but these are all Democrats who voted no.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
"When people better understand the Affordable Care Act, they'll understand, I think, that this isn't something being done to them but is something that's really going to be valuable to them," President Obama insisted last month. "The debate in Washington is over. The Affordable Care Act is now law."
The debate is anything but over. As health insurers are forced to raise premiums in order to cover the cost of the new benefits required under ObamaCare, Americans are finding out just how "affordable" the Affordable Care Act really is. In recent weeks, Aetna, Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, and other carriers have announced rate increases, attributing at least part of the higher charges to the richer benefits mandated by the new law -- such as the elimination of lifetime coverage limits, "free" immunization for children, and the elimination of co-pays for mammograms, cholesterol tests, and other preventive care. Presidents can promise to bend the cost curve, but the laws of supply and demand do not bow to presidential promises: More health-care coverage costs more money -- money that sooner or later comes out of consumers' pockets.
Insurers are not responding to the new law and its expensive new mandates solely by raising premiums. Some are dropping out of insurance markets altogether.
Late last month, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care announced that it will stop providing Medicare Advantage insurance policies at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in New England to find some other way to pay for the health benefits those policies covered. Harvard Pilgrim's hand was forced, a company spokesman said, by the "cuts in Medicare . . . being used to fund national health-care reform."
Another insurer pulling the plug is the Principal Financial Group, an Iowa-based company that currently insures 840,000 customers. "The company's decision reflected its assessment of its ability to compete in the environment created by the new law," reported the New York Times. "More insurers are likely to follow Principal's lead."
Principal is a relatively small insurer, but even insurance giants are walking away from some segments of the business. A slew of big insurers, including UnitedHealth, Wellpoint, Cigna, and Humana, will no longer write individual child-only insurance policies, thanks to the new law's requirement that such plans must cover even children who are seriously ill. Insurance companies are not charitable foundations; they cannot stay in business by insuring the health of people who are at a 100 percent risk of getting sick. As The Washington Post explained, "the pool of children insured by child-only plans would rapidly skew toward those with expensive medical bills, either bankrupting the plans or forcing insurers to make up their losses by substantially increasing premiums for all customers."
Meanwhile, 30 major corporations are still able to offer low-cost health insurance to their employees only because they have received one-year waivers of the new rules from the Department of Health and Human Services. What happens when those waivers expire is anybody's guess. But this much is clear: If the law with its expensive mandates remains on the books, millions of Americans are going to lose the health-care plans they have now -- plans Obama repeatedly promised they could keep. Is it any surprise that just about the only Democrats campaigning on ObamaCare are the ones who voted against it?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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