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The biggest broken promise of Obamacare

By CALVIN WOODWARD
October 31, 2013

President Barack Obama: So much for promises. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

President Barack Obama: So much for promises. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

President Barack Obama’s soothing promise that Americans happy with their health insurance could simply keep it was doomed from the start, and everyone familiar with the market seemed to recognize that except the president. Even his aides said four years ago, early in the huge push for his health care law, that he wasn’t to be taken literally on that point.

But he kept making the promise, literally and forcefully, through the long debate about the overhaul, after it became law and directly to voters in the campaign for the 2012 election. The words sometimes varied but the message didn’t: Not only was a better day coming for people with no insurance or bad insurance — but everyone else could just relax.

Now his assurance is proving empty for people who are getting cancellation notices in the individual or small-business insurance marketplace and for workers who are beginning to see jarring changes in their employer-provided plans. Although they are a minority of the insured, they are adding up to millions of people.

Obama said Wednesday that those who are seeing individual policies canceled should “just shop around” and get another one.

That’s a striking departure from his vow stretching back to 2009: “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

And from the final months of the 2012 campaign: “If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance. This law will only make it more secure and more affordable.”

It’s possible that the shakeout will leave Americans in a better place overall with their health care. It will take a while to know if that is so. People can no longer be denied insurance because they’ve been sick, insurance subsidies are becoming available for many and choices are expanding in new markets despite a stumbling debut that the Obama administration is still trying to set right.

It was never convincing, though, to claim that an overhaul of this magnitude could be dropped like a rock into a pond without waves washing over the system — happy campers among them.

Health policy experts, including some who favored the law, said then that Obama had no standing to make such a promise, as did fact-checkers. “If he was a king, he would deliver that, but he’s not king,” Dallas Salisbury, head of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, told The Associated Press in 2009.

The promise stretched credulity a number of ways:

—It’s practically baked into the law that some policies are going to disappear. Insurance must meet certain standards, and coverage that falls short cannot be sold except through a grandfathering process that insurance administrators say is untenable. So healthy young people or others who were happy enough with bare-bones coverage may be losing access to those plans, and face requirements under the law to replace them. “Nobody is forcing you to shift,” Obama previously said. Shift they must.

—The law does not stop employers from changing plans or carriers, or from dropping coverage altogether. Larger companies will face a fine for terminating insurance but in some cases that could be cheaper for them than continuing their coverage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the number of workers getting employer-based coverage could drop by several million as companies pull back and steer workers to the new individual insurance options instead.

—Cost-control measures in the law are certain to drive changes for people with generous workplace plans. It’s happening already.

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Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to The biggest broken promise of Obamacare

  1. Glenn Klotz

    October 31, 2013 at 11:17 am

    He could have expanded Medicare to everyone and been done with it. Instead, this awful Corp. centric law that forces people to be serfs of these huge Health Ins. Corps. , disgusting.

  2. Ted Remington

    October 31, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    “He could have expanded Medicare to everyone. . ..”

    Er, just how would he, by whom I assume you mean President Obama, have done that? Last time I checked the Congress passed the laws and the President either signed them or vetoed them. Obama had to be content with the flawed law sent him by the Congress.

    The biggest problem is that neither the Republicans nor the insurance companies want Obamacare to succeed, because if it does succeed they are, in the long run, toast. A successful Obamacare would be followed within 10 or 15 years by a replacement single-payer system when and if people see that it really works better. The insurance companies would dry up and blow away. And good riddance, so far as I am concerned, since there does not appear to be any chance of real market competition among them. You will note that premiums under Obamacare are in inverse relationship with the number of companies in the state marketplaces. The more companies, the lower the premiums. Coincidence? You be the judge.

    Obama’s promise was based on the assumption (in hindsight and possibly in foresight a silly assumption) that the insurance companies would not undermine his promise by doing away with the vast majority of their existing policies so they would be able to weasel out of their erstwhile contracts. Obama’s promise was, in effect, broken by the perfidy of the insurance companies.

    I would love to see it proven that there was collusion among the insurance companies to do this, since they deserve to be shredded.