October 24, 2020

Obamacare in trouble

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Obamacare in trouble

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe held a comfortable lead in every public poll in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, yet election night turned into a nail-biter with the results much closer than expected. What happened? The race appeared to tighten as Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli pounded away at Obamacare, honing in on the glitch-ridden rollout of the health care website and riding the wave of negative media about President Obama having made promises he can’t keep.

Obama can get past the computer problems that the experts working on the website say are fixable. He’s in more trouble over his repeated declaration that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” It turns out that’s not always true, and when it is true, policyholders discover they have to pay more because their insurance rates are going up.

Whether directly affected or not, perception is reality in politics, and middle-income people are feeling the weight of Obamacare falling on their backs. Higher premiums have the same impact on family budgets as a tax increase, which tellingly was the premise for Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. He called the imposition of health care reform a tax on the American people, and a legitimate use of federal power.

If the ACA is perceived more as a tax burden than an essential element of the safety net, that is a political catastrophe for Obama and the Democrats. The proverbial man on the street doesn’t care about the intricacies of the law; he wants to know how it affects him. Talk about the health care exchanges, and the fact that young healthy people are forced to buy into the program, even if they can get a good deal, is just so much noise if Obama can’t assure the people who feel adversely affected that they will come out all right in the end when this is sorted out.

If middle-income people feel they are losing out, they now have a new person to blame, the president. They’ve forgotten that insurance premiums have been rising routinely every year; that’s gotten lost in the fog of politics. Obama has no control over the decisions private insurance companies make to maximize their profits. He does have the bully pulpit, however, and he’d better use it if he’s going to have any chance of saving his signature achievement.

Democrats will take the brunt of people’s anger in next year’s midterm elections if Obama fails to get hold of this runaway train. The ACA was designed primarily to address the 15 percent of the population without health care coverage, and when Obama said you can keep your plan if you like it, he was talking to the 85 percent of Americans who are covered through their employer, or through one of the federal programs like the Veterans Administration, or Medicare and Medicaid.

The population getting notified by insurers that their premiums are going up, or that their policies are being cancelled, are part of the five percent of Americans who buy coverage on the individual insurance market. It has always been the most volatile and most expensive area of coverage, and insurance companies are taking advantage of the fact, now that the focus is now on Obama, to stop issuing plans that are not profitable, or don’t meet the minimum standards of coverage under the ACA.

Any program of this magnitude will have unintended consequences, and people of good will should be able to come together and make the necessary legislative fixes. Sadly, that’s not possible in today’s House of Representatives as lawmakers in both parties position themselves for a debate over Obamacare that won’t be resolved until next year’s election, if then.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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