During the 2012 Presidential campaign, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare was a focal point for both candidates. Before, during, and even after the campaign, President Obama made it very clear that for those who have health insurance they “like” already, they would not lose their current coverage. However, according to an NBC News investigative report, somewhere between seven and 10.5 million people could lose their individual insurance plans because they do not meet the minimum requirements for a policy under the new law. Citing unnamed sources and drawing their conclusions from the beneficial position of hindsight, the story claims that “the Obama administration has known that for at least three years.”
Like everything with Obamacare, it all begins back in 2009 during a heated national discussion about the details of the law that was fraught with misinformation and outright lies from those elected officials both Democrat and Republican that were supported by the private healthcare industry. There were a number of means through which Obamacare would lower healthcare costs. Two of the most important for the American public were the increased pool of insured individuals—the “young” people who normally go without insurance—and a federally-run insurance program that was supposed to keep premiums manageable. Once the public option was killed, that meant the private insurers were given far more latitude in terms of the prices they could set.
This recent revelation—that older individual insurance policies might not survive the transition and how much the Obama administration knew about that—will certainly fan the flames of unpopularity for the embattled healthcare law. Many individual healthcare plans were tailor-made for certain demographics, thus they might not have the maternity care, prescription plans, or the 8 other criteria that must be met under the Affordable Care Act. Policies held up to March 23,2010 were supposed to be “grandfathered,” under the law, meaning that people with those plans would qualify under Obamacare. Yet, a loophole in the law states that if the policy was “significantly changed” after that date, it would lose its “grandfather” status. According to NBC News, “[b]uried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual market, ‘40 to 67 percent’ of customers will not be able to keep their policy.”
Part of the Obama administration’s mistake was with phrasing. So often he or surrogates would say that people could keep health insurance they “like” once Obamacare was fully implemented, and that’s simply too subjective a word to hinge onto a major policy promise. Throughout this entire process, the Obama administration has been consistently allowing the Republicans to dominate the direction and tenor of the messaging.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney downplayed the inconsistency in messaging saying, “the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage, minimum services that every insurance plan has to provide. So it’s true that there are existing healthcare plans on the individual market that don’t meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.” Again, while inherently true, if the administration was aware of the significant percentage of individual policyholders that would mostly likely lose coverage, they certainly didn’t advertise that point.
The Obama administration certainly believes that those who lose their policies will find better ones through the healthcare exchanges. Yet, because of the problems with the enrollment website, many who are losing their policies are unable to enroll in new policies or even determine if they qualify for subsidies. Conversely, amidst all of the conservative assertions that Obamacare is a “socialist takeover” of healthcare, any warnings about this from responsible Republican voices were drowned out by Ted Cruz and his phony filibuster or Sarah Palin and her “death panels.”
Which could also explain, why perhaps the Obama administration was not wholly forthcoming with these figures and prepared those with individual insurance coverage for what was coming. With their propensity for mismanaging the message, perhaps they felt they couldn’t accurately convey that larger pools of insured were needed to keep costs down. Perhaps they avoided discussing it because it is one of the parts of this law that could very well fail on the outset and would need Congress to amend it for it to work—an unlikely outcome since the House of Representatives is dominated by Republicans who want to see this law wither and die.
As always with these partisan policy battles, the real casualties are individual Americans. They are the people whose child-bearing days are long behind them who are losing their insurance because it doesn’t cover maternity care. They are the middle class who are just above the limit for subsidy, and find themselves with a $240 to $400 monthly premium. What remains to be seen is what will be done for them. A willing Congress could seek to amend the imperfect law so it is more inclusive and that the burden on the individual is less. Or Congress can use every mistake or flaw to kill the law, reestablish the old status quo, putting us right back where we started with millions of uninsured and skyrocketing healthcare costs.