Obamacare Survives

John Boehner’s miserable performance as the nominal head of the House of Representatives during the recent showdown over the budget and debt ceiling has enhanced his claim to the title of Worst House Speaker since the Civil War.

Boehner’s fear of a revolt by approximately 30 “Tea Party” Republicans caused him to ignore his duties as speaker of the House — a constitutional office that requires him to act in the best interests of the nation, not just his own party. Instead he has consistently refused to allow bills to be heard that would help the President spur the economy, if they were not supported by a majority of the Republican caucus. He also refused to allow House conferees to negotiate with the Senate on the budget and appropriations before they expired on Oct. 1. Then he kept the House from voting on a “clean” continuing resolution that would have prevented the shutdown.

Only after the GOP’s more sober corporate sponsors began to panic at the prospect of a Treasury default did Boehner allow the business-class Republicans to vote with the Democrats to defuse the debt crisis and put the government back to work.

In shutting down the government for 16 days, Boehner and the House Republicans cost the United States more than $24 billion, according to Standard & Poors, and perhaps as much as $31 billion, as estimated by Moody’s Analytics. But Republicans still blamed the shutdown on President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for refusing to negotiate on defunding the Affordable Care Act as a condition for passing the continuing resolution.

We should be concerned that Sen. Rafael “Ted” Cruz (R-Texas), who helped to marshal the House Teabaggers to hold fast for defunding the government when the Democrats did not submit to their demands to defund Obamacare, against the advice of more senior Senate Republicans who could count. In the end, Cruz got 17 other senators and 144 House members to vote for default. He apparently is determined to make another run at shutting down the government and blocking a further debt extension next year.

“This was going to be a multistage, extended battle,” said Cruz, “but we’ve also seen a model that I think is the model going forward to defeat Obamacare, to bring back jobs, economic growth ...”

Which, of course, is nonsense, from the leader of a cabal that has stymied jobs and economic growth.

After the budget and the debt ceiling were resolved, the cable news channels had to find another crisis to cover. Luckily for them the new “Obamacare” website that debuted Oct. 1 was experiencing major malfunctions as millions of people, including the uninsured, the underinsured and the merely curious swamped HealthCare.gov. Most of them were unable to set up accounts that were needed before they could go ahead and browse available plans.

This glitch was annoying, but not entirely unexpected. Previous initiatives to expand health care, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under President Bill Clinton, Medicare Part D under President George W. Bush and Commonwealth Care, the Massachusetts health care exchange under then-Gov. Mitt Romney, also had rocky startups. But the traffic jam at HealthCare.gov was quickly translated by the talking heads on TV into a disastrous blunder that threatened the health-care reforms.

Your editor waited a week before trying to check out the online health insurance exchange. In two tries over a couple days, I was unable to set up an account. But after the feds did some work on the website the weekend of Oct. 19-20, I tried again on Oct. 21 and found that I was able to bypass the account setup and simply price the insurance plans that are available on the exchange.

It turns out that, despite Republican efforts to sabotage the initiative, Texans (at least in Austin) have 80 plans to choose from. Those under 50 can get health coverage for as little as $109 per month for catastrophic coverage, which has a maximum deductible of $6,350. That might seem like a lot, but your medical bill can run past that deductible in a hurry if you break a leg or find that you need a new kidney, which young adults occasionally do.

Texans over 50 in Austin can get health coverage for as little as $185.83 monthly for catastrophic coverage ($265.92 for a couple); $245.98 for the Bronze Plan, which is designed to cover 60% of all health care costs for the average person ($352 for a couple); $287.76 for the Silver Plan, which would cover 70% of health costs ($411.80 for a couple); $328.22 for the Gold Plan, which would cover 80% of health costs ($469.70 for a couple); and $399 for the Platinum Plan, which would cover 90% of health costs ($571 for a couple).

As it happens, my existing coverage with Aetna is priced comparably with the cheapest Bronze Plan, which is a Blue Cross HMO, but my Aetna PPO plan has better features, so I probably will keep it. Many families will benefit from the new choices — particularly those with pre-existing conditions that made it hard or impossible to get affordable insurance under the old system. For example, when my wife was laid off from the Austin school district in 2011, we paid $544 monthly to keep our coverage under the COBRA plan for what was similar to a Silver plan now available for a couple at $411.80. When we looked at getting our own coverage in 2011, we were unable to find an insurance company that was willing to cover my wife, who had a pre-existing condition. (She found another job that offers health coverage, but I had to find my own insurance, since TPP staff — but not the editor — get insurance through the Storm Lake Times in Iowa.)

And, far from costing jobs, the Affordable Care Act actually gives potential entrepreneurs the option to quit their old jobs and start new businesses without risking loss of health coverage for their spouse and/or children who have health problems. And small businesses will get tax credits to help them cover their workers.

So if you were unable to get into HealthCare.gov the first couple weeks, splash your face and try again. If you still can’t get through on the website, you can get help 24/7 by calling toll-free 1-800-318-2596. In many cities, you can stop by community-based health care exchange navigators to check out your options (find help in your area at LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov). And compare them with your friendly neighborhood insurance agent.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to enroll for coverage that starts Jan. 1. Subsidies are available for people making up to 400% of the poverty level. Those who are uninsured have until March 31 to enroll in a health plan or face a fine. (Those below the poverty level will either be covered by Medicaid at federal expense or, if they are in states where Republican officials have refused to accept the federal money to help the working poor, at least they will not be penalized for their state’s miserly interference.)

As of Oct. 20, the White House said 476,000 Americans have begun applying for insurance, out of 19 million who had visited the website. More than half of the applicants are coming from the 36 states where the federal government was forced to take the lead in running the markets. The rest come from 14 states running their own markets, along with Washington, D.C.

Republicans have a three-year head-start on telling lies about what Obamacare will do, so it may take several weeks to get the system running smoothly and convince working-class Republicans (God help them!) to check their options on the healthcare exchange. But the health reforms will save lives of people who, as of Jan. 1, can go to the doctor without fear that the wrong diagnosis will cause their insurance company to cancel their policy and leave them adrift.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts seven million Americans will sign up for insurance in the health care exchanges between October and March, including 2.7 million young and healthy people. Nine million are expected to sign up for Medicaid. And anybody whose insurance premiums rise because of the Affordable Care Act may assume that a major reason is that their insurance provider is now required by federal law to provide benefits and pay for claims that previously would have been denied. And the Republican Party cannot let that accountability stand. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2013


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