‘No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise,” President Obama told the American Medical Association last June. “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.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s oft-repeated vow is as flimsy as assuring a ten-year-old: “If you like your hometown, you can stay there.” Surprise! Daddy gets a new job and hauls the family from Santa Barbara to Dallas.
Obama’s pledge is hollow, mainly because most Americans do not own their health plans. Unlike their auto, home, or apartment insurance — which is their private property — 159 million non-elderly Americans enjoy employer-controlled group coverage. Employees may love their insurance, but their bosses can change it the moment they become disenchanted, just as easily as companies switch from Coke to Pepsi in office vending machines. Employers also can drop coverage altogether.
“The administration’s claims that no one will lose their current coverage are patently false,” says the Galen Institute’s Grace-Marie Turner. Here are some ways this could happen.
Obamacare would forbid insurers from basing rates on the individual health of their customers in any community. It also would force issuers to cover people who refuse to buy insurance until they get sick. These and Obamacare’s other complexities and contradictions would make insurance pricier, as would a $149.1 billion, 40 percent excise tax on high-value “Cadillac plans.” Thus, some employers would save money by paying fines after de-insuring employees. Workers who cherish their health plans then would find themselves dumped into the government-run Health Insurance Exchange.
“Some smaller employers would be inclined to terminate their existing coverage,” explained a December 10 memorandum by Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard S. Foster. He added: “The per-worker penalties assessed on non-participating employers are very low compared to prevailing health insurance costs. As a result, the penalties would not be a significant deterrent to dropping or foregoing coverage. We estimate such actions would collectively reduce the number of people with employer-sponsored health coverage by about 17 million.”
Even more ominously, Obamacare would require employers to provide federally approved coverage. Obama considers “meaningful” plans those at least as generous as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
“Obama’s definition of ‘meaningful’ coverage could eliminate the health plans that now cover as many as half of the 159 million Americans with employer-sponsored insurance, plus more than half of the roughly 18 million Americans in the individual market,” says Cato Institute policy analyst Michael Cannon. “This could compel close to 90 million Americans to switch to more comprehensive health plans with higher premiums, whether they value the added coverage or not.”
Meanwhile, Medicare Advantage (MA) covers some 11 million seniors who purchase supplementary insurance with additional benefits, including preventive services and gym memberships. Obamacare would siphon $118 billion from MA through 2019 and funnel it into a massive new entitlement, even as Medicare wheezes into bankruptcy in 2017. These cuts would disfigure MA and likely jettison many seniors from the program. Consequently, “We’re not going to be able to say ‘If you like what you have, you can keep it,’” Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) predicted to Bloomberg News. “And that basic commitment that a lot of us around here have made will be called into question.”
Among the many “Cash for Cloture” bribes that helped Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) procure several of the 60 votes needed to secure Senate passage of his Obamacare bill, Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) got Sunshine State seniors shielded from MA cuts. Reid’s taxpayer-funded purchase of Nelson’s vote is nicknamed “Gator Aid.”
When Humana, Inc. warned its elderly customers about proposed MA cuts last September, the Obama administration slapped a gag order on Humana and other private insurers — the First Amendment be damned. Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services eventually rescinded this authoritarian ruling, but not before pressuring these companies to discuss their misgivings only with seniors who requested such information.
In a preview of life under Obamacare, Phoenix’s Mayo Clinic stopped treating Medicare patients as of January 1, unless they pay cash. Medicare usually reimburses doctors just 80 cents on the dollar, with a new 21 percent reduction next March. Mayo’s physicians apparently are sick of that.
Also, in particularly baffling prose, pages 114 to 118 of the Senate’s Obamacare bill seem to limit tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts to the individual market, and only for those under age 30. The 9.5 million workers who now enjoy HSA-qualified, high-deductible plans — and self-insured individuals over 30 — apparently would lose their catastrophic coverage and tumble into the Exchange.
Finally, page 91 of the House’s Obamacare bill lets those with individual plans keep their “grandfathered health insurance coverage,” provided that the insurer “does not enroll any individual in such coverage” come 2013. Nor may it “change any of its terms or conditions, including benefits . . . ” So, you are grandfathered unless your insurer’s actions — even without permission — effectively ungrandfather you, plunging you into the Exchange.
Can Americans lose health coverage under Obamacare? Yes we can!
— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.