The Affordable Care Act is the ultimate gravy train for insurers. They get 50 million new customers, all of whom have to buy their product at whatever they choose to charge them. Too bad the rest of us can’t get the same deal. Or can we?
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.
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
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
Susan here. It comes as no surprise to me that the Koch Brothers are one of the groups behind the government shutdown. The national parks have been closed to visitors, and there is no doubt in my mind that the brothers are trying to get federal lands sold to them at cut-rate prices.
How do I know this? Because they tried this stupid stunt in Wisconsin in 2011, when they tried to get the state-controlled properties sold to them. But they failed as soon as it became evident to the public how much Governor Scott Walker was in bed with them. In other words, they got caught with their pants down, and had to retreat.
Our national parks and other federal properties are not for sale either to the highest bidder or the lowest. And I can’t believe the brothers think they’re gonna get away wih this. But they might, if no one is paying attention.