Thanks, Berkeley—I Stand Corrected

By Becky O'Malley, Dan Grassetti, Michael Katz, Joanna Graham
Friday November 08, 2013 - 03:17:00 PM

When I was growing up, a popular saying was “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper!” Still good advice…and that applies, in spades, to the editorial I posted on November 1.

I should have known that Berkeley won’t let you get away with sloppy logic.

It’s true that the reported policy cancellations which were connected with the Obamacare launch affected only a portion of the 5% of insured Americans. But when two of them, Berkeleyans whom I know to be intelligent progressive activists, let me know in no uncertain terms that their individual policies had been cancelled and they were mad as hell, I realized that there are real problems with the new program. 

“Data is not the plural of anecdotes” is a saying that’s been repeated often lately, but when sensible people like these explain how they’ve been shafted, you have to believe they are not alone, whatever the final numbers turn out to be. 

A third eloquent rant came from a reader, not herself a victim in this situation, who describes herself as a critic from the left. 

Their excellent letters appear below, and at the bottom are my own mea culpa and links to articles I found that offer good explanations of how this all came about. 

Urban Myths on "Obamacare"

From Dan Grassetti  



I read your piece on Obamacare and have to weigh in. I'm all in favor of health care reform, but you need to know that the problems being reported aren't urban myths. In my case I received a letter from Kaiser a few weeks back telling me that my current plan had been cancelled because it didn't comply with the ACA, but that they were going to automatically enroll me in an ACA compliant plan with a 95% increase in my monthly premium. 

I've talked with a number of other folks who are experiencing the same thing. 

So, to be absolutely clear, Mr. Obama did indeed state on repeated occasions that "if you like the health plan that you have, you can keep it….period". Unfortunately he was either lying or uninformed about the details of his signature initiative. 

Bottom line is that it's not an urban myth. The fact is that there is a problem and Mr. Obama needs to own up to it. 

Yes, there are all sorts of good things that are happening as a result of the ACA, but there are indeed a sizable number of folks in this country for whom this is anything but a good thing. So, while we can all appreciate the good parts, to attempt to deny that there are serious problems for a goodly number of folks as a result of this is intellectually dishonest. 

As for me, I will be canceling my Kaiser policy as of 12/31 and will be going without health insurance for the first time in my adult life. Oh, and I will be paying a penalty for doing it. Hell of a deal. 

One Major Health Insurer's Response to Obamacare: Redline Alameda County"

From Michael Katz

On Obamacare Day (Oct. 1), my current insurer, HealthNet, delivered a letter informing me that my policy would be cancelled as of 1/1/14. And they offered me no alternative—as of that date, they're ceasing to offer any individual policies in Alameda County. Period. 

I believe this is known as redlining. 

This has interesting consequences for me — as a self-employed person whose income fluctuates. If I have a good year, an equivalent policy will cost me more than 3 times as much. An absolute bare-bones policy will cost more than twice as much. Both have significantly higher co-pays than the nice affordable policy I've lost. 

If my taxable income (after legitimate deductions) is low, I'll qualify for "exchange" subsidies. If an insurer still covering Alameda County accepts my application, my premium will be very low. 

Either way, I have no certainty about what I'll really be paying. 

This is why there's outrage about "Obama's Lie" (which it was) that "if you like your coverage, you can keep it." You can't. For self-insured people, The Obamacact has torn up existing coverage, and increased costs by multiples. 

The arrogant twerps in the White House who designed this decided we didn't matter because we're only a few % of the population. So they could screw us over. 

For something avowedly designed to expand coverage and affordability, it's done just the opposite to us. If I don't qualify for a subsidy to stabilize my premium costs, it's given me every incentive to drop coverage and become uninsured. I'm speaking as a basically healthy person who's done the nominally right thing, maintaining health insurance even though I hoped I'd have no claims for decades. 

No progressive should be defending the reeking, corporation-friendly legislation that the Obamanauts, colluding with creeps like Sen. Max Baucus, churned out. It's not primarily designed to help individuals gain coverage, nor to control costs. Rather, it's a massive, inefficient subsidy to the inefficient insurers who are the problem. 

I'm speaking here as a Canadian native who grew up gratefully and proudly enjoying the real thing — completely government-run health-care coverage. My surgeon father liked that system just as much as consumers did. 

He and his colleagues were initially apprehensive when it came to our province. But it took them barely a month to become believers. It kept insurers out of the core medical system, and left doctors free to make decisions in their patients' best interests. Canadian doctors and patients have never suffered HMO Hell. 

In most provinces, no one ever pays a premium or a co-pay. The whole system is invisible. You're born, you get a health-care card. You pay taxes (directly or indirectly). You need care, you go to a doctor or clinic or hospital, and it's free. 

(Canadian provinces/territories do not actually run "single-payer" health systems. The government is the primary payer. Private insurers sell supplemental policies covering things like elective procedures, semi-private hospital rooms, and expanded prescription-drug benefits. This hybrid system adds some flexibility that keeps everyone happy.) 

As for Obamacare? I remember my surgeon father scoffing at a 1970s TV news story about a very similar proposal from that great progressive, then-president Richard Nixon. "That's not designed to help people," my father said. "It's designed to help the insurance companies." 

This is a Tea Party moment when progressives should be claiming the populist outrage, not dismissing it. If we defend the awkward, broken compromise of Obamacare, we're defending something conceived by Richard Nixon and pioneered by Mitt Romney. 

Haven't we got better things to do — like demanding genuinely affordable, stable, and predictable coverage for everyone? 

Re: Your Editorial

From Joanna Graham 

Far from being urban legend, some very large percentage of people with individual plans have received or will receive cancellation notices (I forget, an estimated 40% or more). This has been in New York Times as well as elsewhere. The reason is that under the ACA all insurance policies must provide certain coverages (including pharmacy and maternity). Since most individual plans do not, they are being done away with and plans with higher premiums are being offered in their stead. Obama knew this would happen and lied. 

Personally, I oppose Obamacare (from the left). It’s hellishly, needlessly complicated. A whole new industry is being generated to help individuals and employers comply with its many complex requirements. Doctors are being forced into conglomerates (this has already happened to three of our doctors). There will be no one left standing but the big guys. Our physical therapist says his profession is being deskilled (he didn’t say it quite like that); soon he may well not be able to make a living but even the living he is already making is more paperwork, more “justification,” and he can offer fewer services. 

Our sports med doctor put it very well after a moment’s thought: he said that more people will be covered; those who already have insurance will be less happy with what they get; and many in the healthcare professions will be forced out of business. 

As a lefty, I don’t see huge differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. The ACA is a massive giveaway to the insurance industry (why not, they wrote it). Unfortunately, it has almost certainly soured the American public on the possibility of real reform of the system for decades to come. And costs will continue to rise because absolutely nothing was done to contain them. It is an unsustainable system but meanwhile a lot of folks are making out like bandits. 

But that just makes it like everything else, I guess. 

And now, President Obama has started to apologize for misleading us (or more likely being himself misled by his overconfident twerps—er, advisers.) Various congresspersons have proffered a variety of schemes for fixing the glitches—and others predictably want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But in five—no, probably two—years, when Obamacare is up and running, this will all be an unpleasant memory. 

Of course, I could be wrong. As you know, I’ve been wrong before. 

Further Explanations