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ObamaCare: Just do it

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For something that has yet to begin, ObamaCare has generated a remarkable array of doomsday predictions.

Highly selective use of statistics by opponents to support their claims has become nearly an everyday occurence. Apparently, their strategy is to ignore the big picture and focus on what would seem to be a comparatively insignificant "gotcha" moment.

It reminds me of the how tens of millions of people, who have or will benefit from immunizations, can be overshadowed by the story of an unfortunate individual who has had a rare serious reaction to one of these immunizations.

For instance, I frequently hear that health reform is going to cause private health-care premiums to increase dramatically. To be honest, over the last year many private insurers have indeed raised their premiums. They quietly acknowledge, though, that this is not directly related to the new law, but rather to "future uncertainties."

Yet, in California, Vermont, Oregon, Washington and neighboring Maryland, recently announced rates for insurance-marketplace policies have been significantly below estimates and this is for coverage that is generally better than what has been available pre-ObamaCare. I guess there's just more competition and less uncertainty than some anticipated.

Closer to home, in the governor's recent health cost report, the forecast was that, with the Medicaid expansion, private policies in West Virginia ultimately will be 5 percent cheaper than they would have been without the expansion.

Additionally, there is the often-repeated concern about possible problems the law creates for businesses with more than 50 employees. We're told that certain companies might have to either lay off workers, cut many back to part time or pay a large fine. There truly might be some extreme examples of affected corporations, but it should be emphasized that there is absolutely no requirement for businesses with less than 50 full-time equivalent employees to provide health insurance, and that the vast majority of employers with 50 or more already provide adequate coverage.

 In fact, in Massachusetts, where an employer mandate for those with 11 or more employees has been in place for six years with a much-smaller fine than in ObamaCare, it was feared that employers might have few qualms about closing the company plan because their workers would be able to buy affordable policies in their state exchange. The opposite happened. From 2005 to 2011, the percentage of companies with three or more workers that offer insurance rose from 70 percent to 76 percent, according to the Massachusetts Employer Survey. The employers apparently realized that it's important to compete for the best employees and that a worker with good medical insurance is healthier and more productive.

Finally, there has been a suggestion that, since the allowed difference between the premiums charged older versus younger citizens will be smaller, there will be a dramatic increase in premiums for the young. What is not mentioned is that, although a few might pay more, because of their generally lower income levels, most of these "young invincibles" will be eligible for expanded Medicaid or a highly subsidized private insurance policy in the marketplace, thereby actually increasing average affordability for this group.

Most folks also don't know that the new law provides for the option of a low-cost catastrophic plan for those under 30 and that, because of this rate-equalizing provision, the premiums for those between 50 and 64 should decrease.

There are many other examples, but the message is the same: To properly assess all the future implications of ObamaCare, you need to examine an objective analysis and not just read politically inspired critiques. Consumer Reports would be a good place to start and, who knows, you just might conclude, as I have, that, although the law might not be perfect, it has the potential to improve the lives of countless Americans. Just ask the people of Massachusetts.

The end of "life as we know it" in health care will not happen if we, as a country, simply concentrate on making this promising social policy work for government, its businesses and our people. Let's stop wringing our hands and just do it.

Foster is a Charleston physician and former state senator.


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