The Corner

Ron Johnson’s Bill to Protect Existing Plans

Senator Ron Johnson announced Friday that he will be introducing legislation designed to let people keep their current health-care plans under Obamacare. The bill would grandfather currently existing plans into Obamacare and rescind a slew of new mandates the law put on those plans. Although President Obama repeatedly promised that under his health-care overhaul, individuals would be able to keep their current health-care plans, those new requirements have prompted insurance companies to cancel many existing plans.

In an interview, Johnson explains he began focusing on introducing the bill upon hearing the tragic story of some of his constituents who are being forced off their current plan.

Johnson describes the circumstances of a Wisconsin couple who turned to his office for help. They don’t want their names used in the press for fear of retaliation from the IRS.

The husband is 57, the wife 61. Both have cancer — the husband’s is in remission while the wife’s is in aggressive and expensive treatment.

The couple had been obtaining health insurance under Wisconsin’s high-risk-pool program, created in 1979, which provides health care to about 20,000 residents and is subsidized by a state tax on everyone else’s health-insurance plans.

Under that plan, the couple paid a premium of $767 a month and had out-of-pocket expenses capped at $10,000 a year, meaning their overall costs were around $19,000.

Eligibility for Wisconsin’s high-risk-pool program comes from being rejected by two commercial insurance companies. Under Obamacare, those companies can’t reject anyone because of preexisting conditions, so the high-risk pools will be eliminated. Wisconsin recently passed a law sunsetting the program, and as of January 1, the Wisconsin couple will need to find a new insurance plan in the midst of ongoing cancer treatments.

Finding information about enrolling in Obamacare has been a nightmare. The husband has tried to review plans at over 40 times at all times of the day and night with no success. He called the Obamacare 1-800 number two weeks ago. A friendly woman promised to send him a packet of information that never arrived.

In the meantime, the only place he can get any information is the insurance companies, which are providing him quotes that are roughly double his current costs.

The “bronze plan” doesn’t include necessary care, so the couple is looking at the “silver plan,” which starts at $1,400 a month. They are still trying to get an exact handle on the out-of-pocket expenses, but right now it appears as if the total cost will be in the range of $40,000.

The husband has been given three different estimates of the subsidies he will receive from the federal government, from $726 a month to $911 a month. Although that will soften the blow, they will still likely be paying more. (Nothing is certain yet given the rat’s nest of

“We’ve doubled the cost of this guy’s health care. We’ve doubled it,” Johnson says, “and the only way we may make him whole – may – is if the federal taxpayer pays for half of his cost.”

As one can imagine, the situation is causing a lot of stress for the couple. They are trying to deal with cancer, uncertainty about how and where they will get health care 47 days from now, and hints that they will be paying substantially more for whatever plan they are forced into.

Although the story was an impetus for his bill, Johnson is frank that even his proposal can do nothing to avert the end of successful high-risk pool programs like Wisconsin’s. “Short of repealing Obamacare, high-risk pools are done,” he says. But the Wisconsin Republican is trying to protect as many people as he can from circumstances like these. 

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