“If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”
That’s what President Barack Obama has said many times since 2009.
It was a stupid thing to say, much less to repeat. The market changes all the time. Americans who get their health insurance coverage through their employers have witnessed the changes, year after year, long before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
House Republicans pressed the president’s point person on health care, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, about Obama’s statement at a hearing Wednesday.
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They pointed to individuals getting “cancellation” notices from insurance companies, or “rollovers” to higher-cost plans. They pointed to Kaiser Permanente sending cancellation notices to 160,000 policyholders in California and Blue Cross sending out 300,000 in Florida. Here’s a story that explains what’s really happening.
The case of Diana Barrette, a 56-year-old woman in Florida, has become the cause célèbre. She was paying $54 a month for health insurance and she received a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield saying she would lose her current plan as of Jan. 1 and her costs would go up. “What I have right now is what I am happy with and I just want to know why I can’t keep what I have,” she told CBS News.
What the members of Congress seem to have missed is that Barrette’s insurance – which paid only $50 toward services, including hospitalization – was what is known as “insurance in name only.” They also seem to have missed that Barrette, who earns about $30,000 a year, would be eligible for subsidies under Obamacare.
One goal of the Affordable Care Act was to eliminate unethical insurance practices – denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, dropping coverage when people get sick or imposing annual or lifetime limits. The aim also was to require insurance companies to include basic preventive care, hospitalization, maternity care, mental health care and more.
So it is a good thing that health plans like Barrette’s will change. Costs will increase for some people – including those who are lucky enough not to have to use medical services, though they will get peace of mind if something does happen to them. Weren’t expecting that broken ankle you sustained when skiing or that car accident or a kidney stone? Then that monthly premium for comprehensive coverage would look much better.
Obama, speaking in Boston after Sebelius’ House testimony, gave the speech he should have given two weeks ago, when problems with the Oct. 1 launch of the Healthcare.gov website surfaced.
The president addressed the cancellations issue directly, explaining the plight of the underinsured who don’t get insurance through an employer and have had to buy it on their own in the individual marketplace.
He finally acknowledged that some people will not be able to keep their health plans, modifying his earlier statements: “For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it. For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal.”
And he spoke directly to people getting cancellation letters: “If you’re getting one of these letters, just shop around in the new marketplace. That’s what it’s for.”
The president, however, stopped short of saying that his earlier statement was exaggerated and wrong. That oft-repeated line gave Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act and seek its repeal an unnecessary opening for attack. That’s the nature of partisan politics, unfortunately.
Political leaders should be focused on making Obamacare work, not sabotaging it.