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'They Did It Right': Obamacare A Success In California

Much has been made of Obamacare and the problems it's caused over the last several years, but some people are pointing to California as an example of how the much-maligned system can work by placing tight controls on insurance companies.

The Affordable Care Act, enacted into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, represents the most comprehensive overhaul of the American healthcare system in decades.

Many Republicans have been critical of the system, and critics of all stripes have been emboldened by negative headlines about insurance companies pulling out of markets and massive spikes in the cost of insurance plans. Major insurers like UnitedHealth Group, Humana and Aetna are raising rates by double digits, according to the Los Angeles Times.

On Oct. 4, Obamacare was attacked from an unexpected angle when former President Bill Clinton, stumping for his wife on the campaign trail, called it "the craziest thing in the world."

While Obamacare had extended health insurance to some 25 million people who didn't have it before, Clinton said, small business owners and lower middle-class workers who don't meet subsidy requirements have taken the brunt of the cost to insure others.

In California, 23.7 percent of working age adults were without insurance, the Times reported. By 2015, that number was down to 11.1 percent. Supporters also point to satisfaction surveys -- one recent survey by Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 75 percent of people who have recently received insurance coverage under Obamacare say they're happy with their coverage.

The Los Angeles Times report quotes Del Hunter-White, a 60-year-old actress who lost her health insurance through the Screen Actor's Guild when she didn't have enough gigs to qualify.

“It was a lifesaver,” Hunter-White told the newspaper. “At my age, you don’t want to go without insurance.”

But the Times report, which portrays the Affordable Care Act as an unqualified success, doesn't mention the impact on those who are worse off than they were before 2010. A 2015 report in Forbes noted that 7 of every 10 small businesses elected not to participate in Small Business Health Options Programs, which is aimed at businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Those who buy coverage through the state's health insurance exchange should also brace for rate hikes which will reach into the double digits in some areas, the San Jose Mercury News reported. That includes Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties, where enrollees face a rate increase of 28.6 percent in 2017.

Others in the Bay area and bordering counties will see their rates increase by between 9.2 percent and 14.8 percent, the newspaper said.

“We’ve known for a long time that 2017 would be a transition year,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s health exchange. “We are seeing that happening.”

Graphic artist Hugo Campos, 50, told the Mercury-News that he has no choice but to pass on the rate hikes to his clients.

“It puts me in a place of having to charge more for my services,” Campos told the newspaper. “And that makes me less attractive to some of my clients who can go get work somewhere else.”

The rate increases, although not as dramatic as in other states, prove California is not immune to problems with the health care system. Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, pushed a proposition in 2014 that would have given the state the power to directly regulate rates.

That proposition didn't pass.

“It’s very likely that insurance companies will raise rates on the rest of the market because they can," Court said, "using essentially the same justification: higher-than-expected costs."

Sources: Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Forbes / Photo credit: Bill Branson via Wikimedia Commons

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