Tag Archives: ACA

How the Press Leads “The Resistance”

The Trump Administration is guilty of countless wrongdoing, including monstrous acts that no one cares about, at least not in the press. In the meantime, the media is obsessing over a meeting between a 2016 Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Donald Trump, Jr. and a number of other attendees.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Healthcare Insurance Pigs Soaking Americans With Secret 20%-40% Rate Increases on Obamacare

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This is what happens when you trust free markets.

You probably heard that the Supreme Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, a.k.a. The Great Transfer of Taxpayer Dollars to Scumbag Health Insurance Companies. That news broke during a major news day.

What you likely missed, because it came out on July 3rd when everyone was driving to the beach or flying somewhere fun for their Independence Day weekend getaways instead of paying attention to the news, was that the ACA is tanking. That’s why you have me: to read depressing tidbits about America’s decline, and to annoy Obamabots with another I-told-you-so.

When Obama resurrected 1993’s benighted Hillarycare scheme, I warned that there were two major problems with this convoluted hybrid of government-managed healthcare and for-profit healthcare.

First, the Affordable Care Act kept the insurance companies in business. Aetna, United Healthcare and the other big insurers are a huge drain on the system, sucking out billions in profits and driving up costs. Profitmaking has no place in healthcare, which is a basic human right, like air and water. Air and water are free; healthcare should be free too. But that’s the opposite of what drives health insurers: they want to give you as little care as possible while charging you as much as possible.

Second, the ACA diminished Americans’ zeal for socialized medicine, the standard in the developed world. “In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,” Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin Progressive of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pointed out. “Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.” I wrote last year: “In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.”

Now that the public has had a chance to use and pay for Obamacare, support for single-payer is back up to 50%.

Back to that story that broke on the deadest news day of the year. From The New York Times: “Health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20% to 40% or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected…Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans — market leaders in many states — are seeking rate increases that average 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota, according to documents posted online by the federal government and state insurance commissioners and interviews with insurance executives.”

Did your paycheck go up 20%, much less 40%, in the last year? I didn’t think so.

The proper reaction to this disgusting move — remember, we’re talking about a for-profit corporate sector that rakes in billions of dollars a month and pays its CEOs millions of dollars a year — is to line up the executives responsible against a wall and shoot them full of holes, then deny the healthcare claims of any who survive just because, as the rest of us routinely experience.

Since that would be illegal, however, the second-best approach should be to shame the bastards relentlessly on social media, until they’re forced to go join ISIS because people would subject them to Two Minute Hates wherever they go. (Not to say that ISIS, which provides free healthcare, would want these human turds either.)

This is where one naturally turns to political leadership. Surely the President of the United States, a.k.a. He For Whom Obamacare Is Named, will crack down on these insurance pirates?

Not so much. Obama “said that consumers should put pressure on state insurance regulators to scrutinize the proposed rate increases. If commissioners do their job and actively review rates, he said, ‘my expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested.'”

No doubt the healthcare industry itself, which rakes in billions each year from their new involuntary customers, hears our anger.

Not so much. Marinan Williams, CEO of the Scott & White Health Plan in Texas, which applied for a 32% rate hike, says: “Over the next three years, I hope, rates will start to stabilize.” How about we “stabilize” her salary at 32% less than she gets now?

How’s your interest in the “full loaf” — single-payer socialized medicine — now?

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the first biography of NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. It is in graphic novel form, and will publish August 18th. You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Still No National Healthcare For Mental Illness? That’s Crazy

TED RALL

STILL NO NATIONAL HEALTHCARE FOR MENTAL ILLNESS? THAT’S CRAZY

BY TED RALL

RELEASE: WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2014

The sister of the 28-year-old man who shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore the same morning he killed two New York police officers as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn said her brother had long suffered from mental illness, but hadn’t received treatment.

“He was an emotionally troubled young man, and he was suicidal,” said Jalaa’i Brinsley. “Clearly something’s wrong. He should have been offered help in the system, right? But he wasn’t.”

Indeed. Something is very wrong.

In the United States, psychiatric care is a luxury that, at $150 an hour and up for counseling that can last for months or even years, only the very wealthiest citizens can afford.

This latest sorry episode serves as yet another reminder that ours remains a country in its infancy when it comes to health care, despite the undeniable turning point marked by last year’s enactment of the Affordable Care Act. As many as one out of four Americans suffer mental health issues in any given year, yet even upper-middle-class “white-collar” workers with relatively high-end health insurance plans receive little coverage for mental illness. The same goes for dental and vision care.

You know the narrative by now: after a particularly heinous shooting or mass shooting, typically ending with the suicide or death-by-cop of the suspect, relatives of the murderer emerge to express their sorrow and anger that they had repeatedly sought help but had been consistently rejected, usually due to their inability to afford expensive treatment and medications for mental illness. For the most part, however, news coverage and political debate emphasizes helplessness – who can predict who will go crazy? – and America’s easy access to high-powered weapons.        Sure, there is a flutter of discussion of the fact that few Americans have access to care for mental illness, but those stories are inevitably overshadowed by the gun control and the “culture of violence” chatter.

Talk about crazy!

As the bodies of the victims – which, if you are fair-minded, must include the killers along with the killed – go cold in their graves, the media and thus the population at large move on, the system putters on the same as always, denying countless millions access to the mental health professionals this country can easily afford to pay on their behalf, and setting the stage for some tiny fraction of them to go haywire and commit the headline-grabbing mass murders of the future.

Two years ago, after Adam Lanza slaughtered 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killed his mother and himself, some public officials declared that it was time to get serious about mental illness. According to a report by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate, Lanza had never received treatment for years of mental illness, including anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

But, as USA Today reports, “the drive for change has [since] slowed at the state level and ground almost to a halt in Washington…Only 29 states increased funding this year, however. Seven states reduced mental health spending. In some states, mental health funding is still less than it was before the [2008-10] recession.”

“We’re seeing less attention to mental health, and that’s concerning to us, because we’re still seeing so many tragedies every day,” Mary Giliberti of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) told the paper. Although individual tragedies may not make the news, she said, “the suffering is tremendous when people don’t get the services they need. People end up in emergency rooms. People end up in jails and prisons, which is absolutely the wrong place for someone with mental illness.”

Mental illness is one of America’s biggest hidden scourges.

According to NAMI, 1 in 17 adults − about 13.6 million Americans – suffer from a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

46% of homeless Americans in shelters suffer from serious mental illness and/or substance abuse.

20% of prisoners in state and local prisons have a recent history of mental health problems.

70% of children in juvenile prisons have a mental health condition.

People need help, but they’re not getting it. 60% of adults with mental illness received no treatment within the last year.

Mental health treatment is expensive — but so is ignoring the problem. “Serious mental illness cost the economy $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year,” according to NAMI. Think of all the wars we could fight with the taxes from those lost salaries! Or don’t: 22 veterans commit suicide daily.

This year is a perfect example of the system’s inability and/or unwillingness to respond to the mental health crisis. Even after actor-comedian Robin Williams succumbed to suicide after years of alcoholism and depression, and a severely depressed 22-year-old man killed six people and then himself at the University of California at Santa Barbara, you couldn’t even find a single liberal Democrat in either the House of Representatives or the Senate to propose a bill that would expand the ACA to include comprehensive coverage for mental illness.

Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger’s “parents repeatedly attempted to get psychiatric help for their son. By his own account, he was prescribed antipsychotic medication but refused to take it,” CBS News reported at the time.

There is a strong argument to be made in favor of restricting access to the highest powered automatic weapons, as well as philosophical interest in debating the nature of good and evil, but if we as a country truly want to reduce the frequency and severity of shootings in our public spaces, we should start by throwing some serious money at psychologists and psychiatrists.

“About half of these mass killings are being done by people with severe mental illness, mostly schizophrenia,” Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a leading expert on severe mental illness told “60 Minutes” in 2013. “And if they were being treated, they would’ve been preventable.”

So it wasn’t just “evil,” or random criminality, that killed those two NYPD officers last weekend.

It was us.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Never Trust a Realist

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“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why,” Robert F. Kennedy famously said. “I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘why not?'”

RFK was an idealist — someone who views the world as a blank slate full of possibilities.

So am I.

Realists — people who strive to make improvements within the constraints of the current situation — are important. No society can live with its head in the clouds. But we also need people who look to the stars. Where are they now?

For as long as I can remember, American politics and media have been dominated by self-identified realists to the exclusion of idealists. In many cases, the “realists” are just bullies pushing agendas with no real grounding in reality (c.f., Bush’s neo-cons). Still, some of these Very Reasonable People, as Paul Krugman calls them, have achieved incremental victories that have made life somewhat better in some respects (c.f., Obamacare).

But no civilization can achieve greatness without idealists. If you’re looking for one big reason the United States seems to be on the wrong track, try the marginalization of idealism that coincided with the collapse of the peace movement and the American Left at the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. The death of every strain of American Leftism from liberalism to revolutionary communism has left us with a nation that doesn’t know how to dream big.

If we’d been like we are now when Sputnik launched, it’s a fair bet we never would have gone to the moon. We couldn’t have justified the massive budget. Or it would have died in Congress. The money would have been spent, but on stuff no one needs — invading foreign countries, tax cuts for the rich and big corporations — with nothing to show for it.

America has become too small to fail.

In an excerpt from his upcoming book that appeared recently in The Atlantic, Michael Wolraich recently discussed the tendency of Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin senator and leading light of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to hold out for radical progress over incremental, less satisfying gains. La Follette’s big-picture approach — so idealistic — was, in its way, more realistic than what passes for realism today:

“He might have passed more legislation by compromising [with his enemies], but he refused to dilute his proposals. There was that stubbornness again but also strategy. La Follette took a long view of political change. In contrast to Roosevelt’s pragmatic approach, he believed that temporary defeat was preferable to compromised legislation, which would sate public demand for reform without making genuine progress. ‘In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,’ he argued. ‘Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.’ Legislative defeat, on the other hand, served a useful political purpose. He would use the defeat of a popular bill to bludgeon his opponents in the next election, and he would keep assailing them with it until they yielded or lost their seats.”

Or, as the revolutionary “situationists” who took over Paris in May 1968 cried: “Be realistic: Demand the impossible!

When I read this, I thought: Yes! Here’s a perfect articulation of the politics we’re missing.

With USA Today recently joining the chorus of media describing Barack Obama, who championed realism in the form of diminished expectations, as a failed president and a “lame duck before his time,” and Hillary Clinton once again marketing herself a yet another drab uber-realist for 2016, a reminder of La Follette’s ambitious approach to politics is especially timely.

Consider, for example, Obamacare.

La Follette would see the Affordable Care Act as a classic case of the “half a loaf” that “dulls the appetite” for true reform — in this case, socialized medicine or at least European-style “single payer.” In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.

Democrats defended Obamacare to liberals and progressives as an imperfect, insurance company-protecting interim measure. Obamabots encouraged libs to support the conservative Democratic president because the ACA would move America closer to the single-payer ideal.

Now we see how wrong the “realists” were. As La Follette would have predicted, the appetite for the “full loaf” of single payer has diminished, partly sated by the “half loaf” of Obamacare. Regardless who wins in 2016, single-payer will be off the agenda for another four to eight years. Obamacare killed single-payer.

Imagine, on the other hand, where we’d be if Obama had gone the idealist La Follette route, proposing a single-payer healthcare reform bill that had suffered defeat at the hands of Congressional Republicans.

Six years after the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis, several more million of Americans would be uninsured. Hospital emergency rooms, bursting at the seams as it is, would be in a greater state of crisis — which would add to support for reform. You can easily imagine Obama and the Democrats beating up “Republicans who don’t care about sick and dying Americans” on the campaign trail. Sooner or later — I’d bet sooner — they’d have to cave in and vote for this big new social program, just as they did with the New Deal and Great Society, or face oblivion.

Of course, Obama’s appetite for single payer was never ferocious. He promised a single-payer “option” during the 2008 campaign — yet never tried — but the point remains, the American people allowed themselves to be “realistic.” Which left them with far less than they might have gotten had they held out for full-fledged single-payer.

As we head into the 2016 campaign, remember what “realism” really is: the siren song of mediocrity, written by the elite to make you settle for less than you deserve.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Obamacare Update

Four consecutive weeks of Obamacare columns is enough to make anyone sick. But an update is clearly in order.

The latest ACA-related fiasco is the story, much touted by Republicans, that millions of Americans are receiving cancellation notices from their insurers because their policies don’t meet the requirements of ACA for coverage. Between that and the fact that it’s basically impossible to buy a healthcare plan online (you can register, but registration isn’t buying), it is entirely possible that by January 1st there will be more  people uninsured than before.

Granted, Republicans don’t enjoy any credibility when it comes to healthcare. After all, their solution was none at all. They were fine with the current, crappy, who-cares-if-you-die system. But that doesn’t mean the ACA is an improvement.

And if Democrats keep spouting talking points like the one I saw all over MSNBC yesterday, encapsulated perfectly by this post,  which I found on Daily Kos this morning, they shan’t long have any cred left themselves:

They are trash policies that would have left policy-holders paying thousands out of their own pockets at time of claims. Non-guaranteed renewable, limited in benefit coverage, no preventive care, and most have absolutely no drug coverage. The maximum limit of coverage, which is a lifetime maximum, and is soon reached in this day and age.

The insurance companies issuing these policies knew they had three years to comply with the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, and they decided this was the way to get rid of that line of business, and rack up more premiums on better plans. The small percentage of people whose policies are being canceled should really thank God that it is forcing them to re-look at what they have in the way of health care. Most don’t even know they had inferior policies they were paying for.

Let’s bring this country of under-insureds up to normal and reasonable limits for the 21st century.

The thing is, Democrats, President Obama didn’t tell the public “If you like your current plan, you can keep it unless it doesn’t meet the new standards.” There was no qualifier. Instead he said, over and over, so often that even Americans remember, “If you like your current plan, you can keep it.” The qualifier matters.

Democrats are whistling past the graveyard if they think this doesn’t matter. Getting a cancellation letter is a major pain in the ass. People who thought they were fine and didn’t have to worry about the ACA now have to break their routines, take hours out of their lives, to deal with shopping for new coverage. They’re not going to be happy about it, no matter how much they’re told their old plan was shitty and worthless in the first place.

Sure, I’d rather drive a Dodge Challenger than a Honda Civic. But what Obama is doing is pulling me over, towing away my Civic and telling me I’ll be fined — and have to walk home — unless I buy a Challenger that I may or may not be able to afford. That’s pretty bad, but the last thing he’d better add is that he’s doing me a favor.

So in other news, I received a letter from nystateofhealth, the New York state ACA marketplace. A letter. Via snail mail. Good news! “We have determined that you are eligible to enroll in a qualified health plan through the Marketplace,” it reads. “Your health insurance plan will begin shortly after you have selected a health plan and paid the premium payment (if applicable).

I went online right away to log in. But…

All my personal data, all the information I spent hours uploading, including three months of personal financial statements related to my self-employment business as a cartoonist and writer, were gone!

So I got on the phone. The phone mail tree is byzantine but eventually a person picked up, accessed my account, and confirmed that indeed, I do qualify for coverage. “Can I choose a plan through you?” I asked the agent.

“No,” he replied, “you’ll get a letter, probably in early December. Go ahead and disregard the one you received.”
Really? Disregard it? What will the second letter say?

“You’ll be able to choose the plan through the letter,” he said. Twice, because I made him.

“Through the mail?”

“Yes. Then your plan will be effective January 1st.”

Let’s hope this is true. And that it works.

Even so, I wonder: why’d they bother with the websites in the first place? Why didn’t they just do the whole thing by mail?

I’ll let you know what happens. Or doesn’t.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: May Sarah Palin’s Stupid Conspiracy Theory Come True

How Obama’s Stupidity Might Get Us Real Healthcare

When it comes to Obamacare, Democrats have every reason to accuse the House Republicans of bad faith. Still, yesterday’s Congressional grilling of the private contractors hired to build the healthcare.gov federal marketplace serves as a reminder that editorial writers’ endless calls for bipartisan cooperation should never be heeded. We need adversarial politics; for that, the more polarization the better. If not for those pissy Republicans, who would get to the bottom of the disastrous October 1st rollout of the Affordable Care Act? Not the secrecy-obsessed Obama, who makes Nixon look like a paragon of transparency. Not his make-any-lame excuse Democrats.

Tea Party types love conspiracies. Obama is a Kenyan socialist. (So where’s the socialism?) 9/11 was an inside job. (But not a good one.)  But sometimes conspiracies turn out to be true — even if they’re weren’t planned that way.

The latest dastardly plot circulating among Tea Partiers is that the Obamaites deliberately screwed up the ACA websites to pave the way for their true agenda: socializing healthcare. (I use the plural because most of the online state marketplaces, developed based on consultations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are just as buggy and crashy as the federal one.)

Sarah Palin articulates this — hey, there are four words you don’t usually see at the same time — in an October 20th blog post:

“Obamacare in its current corporatist form isn’t meant to last. It’s meant to push us towards full socialized medicine with a single-payer system.”

“The broken websites and botched Obamacare rollout help push things to that inevitable conclusion by causing frustration and confusion that only the government can ‘fix,'” writes Palin.

She continues with a logical fallacy: Obama is smart, smart people don’t make dumb mistakes, therefore any “mistakes” they make are intentional.

“In fact,” Palin argues, “these unusable Obamacare websites make a reasonable person wonder how this administration could have made such a colossal bungle of the rollout when they are, after all, the same savvy experts who had the most sophisticated and precise campaign websites ever built. They could pinpoint voters down to a city block, but they messed up a website that cost the government over $200 million more than it cost Apple to develop the first iPhone. Purposeful?”

The problem with this reasoning (which echoes 9/11 Truther theories that the Bush Administration couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to let hijacked planes fly around the U.S. for nearly two hours) is that Obama and his team aren’t really smart. They’re calm.

It’s not the same.

If Team Obama had been plotting Canadian-style socialized medicine all along, they wouldn’t have floated all those dumb “heckuva job, Barry”-style excuses that turned healthcare.gov into the president’s Katrina moment:

  • Too much volume. But corporate websites routinely handle more than the ACA sites. Besides, the feds knew that, in a nation with tens of millions of uninsured people, tens of millions of people were going to check out the website. The truth, as any idiot could plainly see, was that volume wasn’t the issue. Lousy coding was.
  • ACA is “more than a website” — and anyway, why don’t people use the phone? Actually, that’s not true. For most people, the ACA are the websites. That’s how Obamacare was promoted. People were told to go online. So they did. As for those who threw up their hands and tried calling — I was one of them — there was no way to buy a plan by phone.
  • Everyone knew there would be glitches. The problem with that Democratic talking point is that while Americans may suffer from short memories, they’re not totally retarded. We still recall September 2013. It’s not like anyone in the White House announced before the launch: “Hey, don’t freak if you can’t access the websites right away. Chillax, wait a month or two. We’re expecting a lot of glitches, and things could be less than cromulent for a while.”

No, Governor Palin, the truth behind the ACA mess is that Obama and his gang of golfing buddies are idiots.

OK, so there was evildoing. For example, as Forbes reported: “HHS bureaucrats knew [forcing the uninsured to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping] would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away… Obamacare wasn’t designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions…This political objective — masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans — far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly.”

There was corruption too. UnitedHealth Group, which as one of the nation’s biggest insurers stands to make billions from the ACA, was a key contractor for the federal website.

Mostly, though, there was idiocy. Secondarily, in execution. End-to-end testing began in late September. For an October 1st rollout. What could possibly go wrong?

That’s right: secondarily.

Primarily, Obama and the Democrats were idiots to think that the ACA’s bastard hybrid of public and private could function properly — certainly not on “a project of such immense complexity. The federal exchange must communicate with other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers.”

Look at what happened to the Postal Service: neither beast nor fowl, the uncomfortable marriage of for-profit business and Congressionally mandated payouts has pushed an otherwise viable organization to the brink of collapse.

ACA was created in response to skyrocketing healthcare costs — a problem directly attributable to the big insurance companies, which are raping patients and doctors with extortionist rates in order to accumulate obscene profits. The common sense solution? Cut out the insurers; put them out of business. Nationalize hospitals and private clinics. Turn doctors and nurses into federal employees. Obama built the ACA to increase the big insurers’ profits even more. Thus, for example, no federal price controls on the plans to be sold through the government websites. It comes as no surprise, but sad confirmation that we were right, that insurance company stocks have soared since the passage of the ACA.

Now, with a little luck, we’re looking at the possible realization of Sarah Palin’s nightmare scenario:

“With Obamacare we have crappier health care (fewer choices, fewer doctors, and an IPAB rationing panel of faceless bureaucrats, aka the ol’ ‘death panel’ that has been admitted to existing in Obamacare), but it is very expensive for the individual American…Americans, if you’re faced with a 300% increase (or even a 65% increase like my family) in your health care premiums for crappier coverage, doesn’t ‘free’ socialized medicine all of a sudden sound appealing? And that’s how Americans will be led down the primrose path to a single-payer system. People will be frustrated, worn out, and broke under this new government burden. Many will end up concluding they’ll settle for — then demand — full socialized medicine because they’ll see how the unworkable Obamacare will break our health care system (where, presently, no one is turned away from emergency rooms and we have many public and private safety nets for people in need), along with busting our personal bank accounts.”

I never thought I’d say this, but: From Sarah Palin’s lips to God’s ears.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obamacare Website to New Yorker: Drop Dead

This week, we wrap up a personal saga of bureaucratic incompetence and institutional corruption: my attempt to sign up for Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act officially launched three weeks ago. As one of 50 million uninsured Americans, I’ll pay a tax penalty unless I purchase for-profit insurance from a wildly profitable corporation (the healthcare sector pays its CEOs the highest salaries) via my state’s “health insurance marketplace.”

Alas, my first attempt to shop for a plan ended four hours into the process, when New York’s website crashed and ate most of my info. Two weeks later, I was able to register. But the system couldn’t tell me if I’d qualify for a subsidy, or whether any of the plans cover my doctor or local hospital.

As the leaves pile up and I head out to buy a last-minute discount pumpkin just in time for Halloween, will the system work — the one that was supposed to launch three weeks ago? Let’s find out.

Fortunately for President Obama, his Republican rivals were so busy committing electoral suicide by shutting down and pushing the federal government to the brink of default that no one noticed his lame excuses — “we expected glitches” — for his incredibly shitty websites.

“These are not glitches,” an insurance executive told Forbes. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous.”

Hey, it’s not like they had three years to get ready.

Now Obama says: “I am the first to acknowledge that the website that was supposed to do this all in a seamless way has had way more glitches than I think are acceptable and we’ve got people working around the clock to do that.” Which is totally true, if by “first to acknowledge,” Obama means “fifty millionth to acknowledge after stonewalling and refusing to admit anything’s wrong.”

OK, so the president is a liar. But then he says “people” are “working around the clock” to make things work “in a seamless way.” Which inspires me with confidence. After all, I’m a person. “People” are members of my own same species. We’re on the same team!

I’ll admit, though, I’m not exactly Hoping for a big bucket of Change.

Like Mulder, I want to believe. The problem is, two days ago, The Newspaper of Record printed an article that, among other things, says:

“Most of the 15 exchanges run by states and the District of Columbia do not have provider directories or search tools on their Web sites — at least not yet — so customers cannot easily check which doctors and hospitals are included in a particular plan’s network. Most allow customers to search for providers by linking to the insurers’ Web sites, but the information is not always accurate or easy to navigate, health care experts say.”

Well, let’s see for ourselves, shall we?

Log in: no problem.

Take that, Tea Party Patriots!

The last time I slogged through this process, I wasn’t able to find out whether I’d qualify for a subsidy. So I’m on tenterhooks. Am I poor enough, have enough newspapers canceled me, slashed my fee and/or kept me at the same rate for years as inflation ate away my standard of living to score a break on Obama’s for-profit healthcare mandate?

I click the tab marked “financial assistance.” Fortunately, all the information I spent hours typing in a week and a half ago is still there. Inexplicably, however, I have to scroll through each page, individually re-approving them. There are 28 of them in all. Terrible design. What is this, iOS7?

The little wheel turns. And turns. Is it working? Yes! I get a message:

“You and your family cannot pick a health plan right now. You will get a letter or an email telling you when to log onto your Marketplace account to pick a health plan. Call 1-855-355-5777 to find out how to pick your plan if the Marketplace has not contacted you by the middle of December 2013.”

Thus endeth my adventure with the Great Privatized Healthcare Marketplace Experiment of 2013. Which, apparently, will soon become the Great Privatized Healthcare Marketplace Experiment of 2014. Or 2015. Whichever comes last. Or ever.

Which really sucks.

It sucks for two reasons:

First, like 50 million other Americans, I really do need insurance. Like most cartoonists and writers, I work for a syndicate that considers me an “independent contractor” for tax purposes. So even though I work 80 hours a week, I get zero coverage. I feel healthy, but you never know. Swine flu nearly killed me a few years back. Also, I drive too fast.

My experience isn’t unique. How many Americans won’t be able to buy health insurance between now and December, or whenever Obama finally gets his act together? How many will die due to lack of insurance? (The back of the envelope guesstimate: about 3800 per month.) How many will go broke paying for-profit doctors and hospitals?

Second, Obamacare is a Catch-22.

Bloomberg wire service reports: “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires most Americans have an active health insurance policy by March 31 or pay the higher of one percent of their annual income or $95.”

As the not-typically-quotable John Boehner asked recently: “How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn’t work?”

To which New York’s healthcare marketplace exchange thingamabob gives an elegant answer: “Error 500: org.opensaml.common.SAMLRuntimeException: Error determining metadata contracts.”

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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