Barack Obama held his first open press conference in almost two months this week, perhaps anticipating that the White House press corps would be interested in asking him about the sequester.
Instead, the presser began with a challenge to the President over Syria and the Benghazi attack, ended with a question about a gay NBA player -- and in the middle put Obama on the spot over his signature legislative victory from three year ago--the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare.
NBC’s Chuck Todd reminded the President that a Senator of his own party, the now-retiring Montanan Max Baucus who helped write and push the ACA, called the legislation a “train wreck.” Todd asked Obama why Baucus would say that and how Obama would respond. Obama’s response proved to be a train wreck of its own.
“For the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance,” Obama helpfully informed his audience, “they're already experiencing most of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act -- even if they don't know it.” Insisting that the implementation has already been accomplished for the already-insured, Obama claimed, “Now they don't have to worry about anything else.”
Nonsense, scoffed Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler. “There are a variety of studies and reports that suggest that, beyond those groups, some 10 million people face the prospect of losing their current health care,” Kessler said in rebuttal to the President’s remarks.
A University of Chicago study shows that nearly half of existing individual plans (as opposed to employer-provided group plans) will not qualify under Obamacare mandates for coverage. This means that these already-insured Americans will have to start shopping around again and spend more--25 percent more or even worse. In Oregon, one insurer is applying for a 53 percent increase in individual-plan premiums in order to bring their insurance into compliance with the ACA, including the pre-existing condition mandate.
Bear in mind that one of the benefits listed by Obama in yesterday’s presser was for individual policyholders who “are paying exorbitant amounts for coverage that isn't that great.”
Medicare recipients have even bigger problems to consider. They may not see huge premium hikes, but they will have fewer providers from which to choose, thanks to reductions in reimbursements that are the Democrats’ idea of cost control. The program’s own actuary warned that 15 percent of current providers may stop taking Medicare patients at all, which will drive up wait times and impact the quality of care available for those in the retirement system. They certainly have a few things to worry about, contra Obama’s reassurances.
Besides, the people who really need to worry are those about to be thrown onto the individual market. Employers are looking for ways to reduce existing employees to part-time status in order to duck the mandate to provide subsidized group insurance. NPR reported this week on the business trend, which would save costs to the company but massively increase costs for Obamacare thanks to its system of subsidizing individual plan purchases through the ACA exchanges.
That will create a need for more revenues through Obamacare taxes, which will already hit most Americans either directly through Social Security tax increases or through levies on medical devices and more, which will force providers to raise their prices.
Even the people who will now be able to buy insurance for the first time through the exchanges have headaches in front of them. The Department of Health and Human Services’ application process originally ran to 23 pages when first rolled out, creating “a storm of complaints” over paperwork and red tape, according to the Associated Press.
This week, HHS revised the application to just five pages – but only for single plans. (Obama said it was “about three pages” long in his press conference.) Family plan applications run twelve pages, and neither of those count the extensive documentation required on tangible assets, employment and income, and any alimony, child support, and even tips from the job. That’s just the start. After completing all of that – which would not be necessary in a true market exchange – people still need to navigate the state/federal exchange to figure out what kind of insurance they need and can afford, as the Associated Press points out.
Bear in mind, too, that the ACA’s ostensible goal was to insure the currently uninsured. As Obama admitted in his press conference, we still have 30 million people uninsured more than three years after the passage of the bill. Obama called them “a relatively narrow group,” but they represent “10 to 15 percent of Americans,” according to Obama.
The pre-existing condition mandate has been in place since Obamacare was passed, but the bill has not led many uninsured to sign up for coverage. With several states balking at the expense of expanding Medicaid to absorb some of these uninsured – which would pass costs to their taxpayers – most of the headaches, costs, and trouble will fall on the already-insured.
Moreover, there is one more already-covered constituency to consider – Democrats in Congress. Baucus isn’t the only Capitol Hill Democrat worried about a “train wreck,” according to The Hill. Even those not yet on Capitol Hill have distanced themselves from the unpopular program. Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a Democrat running for a House seat in a South Carolina special election, called the ACA “extremely problematic.”
As 2014 draws ever closer, and the true scale of the problems of ObamaCare become apparent, expect more Democratic incumbents to commiserate with their constituents about the “extremely problematic” “train wreck” they imposed on them. They had better not expect the voters to let them off the hook, however, no matter how many times Obama tells them they have nothing to worry about.