Republicans are so horrified that Obamacare will make affordable health services available to 30 million uninsured Americans, they are willing to shut down government and crash the national and global economy over it. October 1 is the deadline, when the millions of people can begin signing up to be part of the new health insurance exchanges. It is also the date when the government will shut down if Republicans don't pass a budget that does not eliminate Obamacare.
So far, the media attention has focused on the politics of the Republican tactic - Charles M. Blow of the New York Times called it "kamikaze" politics, as if Republicans will be held accountable for such ruthless, reckless, and nonsensical action - in that shutting government and crashing the economy will not stop Obamacare, which has been law since 2010, given the seal of approval by the Supreme Court, and has been rolling out in phases.
But most people are ignorant - willfully and woefully so - about what Obamacare is, how they have already benefited since its phased-in implementation, and why our families, our communities, our society and our economy, will benefit when the next phase of open registration starts October 1.
Some 60% of Americans say they are not aware of Obamacare - an interesting statistic since 54%, supposedly, do not support Obamacare (it turns out that two thirds of the 54% who say they do not favor Obamacare say it did not go far enough and would have preferred the single-payer, Medicare-for-all option; and 60% say they do not want Obamacare repealed or defunded).
The lack of understanding of Obamacare is understandable since the media has focused on the tactics and the Congressional jousting (to the death!), while millions of dollars have been poured into anti-Obamacare campaigns.
Right now, you have the Koch Brothers funding one of their shady groups with the patriotic name, Generation Opportunity, spending $750,000 to convince young people to opt out" of Obamacare and pay a fine rather than actually purchase health care (because they are invincible, after all) - using an image of a creepy Uncle Sam doing a vaginal probe of a pretty young blond woman. You might have thought it was an ad against the Republican Governors who have actually signed legislation that puts Government inside women's vaginas when they seek reproductive health care.
But nooooo, this is intended to scare young people so they don't sign on to health insurance, which the Kill Obamacare people know will reduce the size of the pool, and put a road block into the cost savings that Obamacare is based on: the wide pool lowers the cost for everyone.
Then Conservatives will be able to say "I told you so. Obamacare is not bringing down insurance premiums for everyone."
Meanwhile Republican governors like Rick Scott of Florida are putting barricades in the way of "navigators" who want to help people enroll.
And they lie. Remember death panels? Now Congressman Michelle Obama is saying that the IRS will exert its power to withhold medical care to political opponents of the administration (Washington Post branded her absurd claim "Four Pinocchios").
We have our own propagandist who last week published a long tirade about Obamacare in this newspaper: "I’m 72 years old and now you are telling me I must try to stay alive for another 12 months without your mandatory health insurance. Good luck. This may be easy for you and Michelle to do, but for someone of our age, it's a major problem."
The man is 72 years old. He gets Medicare. What's the problem? The only thing that changes for him is that he gets way more services and prescription medications for less. His complaint is more like "I've got mine. To hell with the rest of you."
Because I am sick and disgusted of the disinformation campaign right up front, here is what Obamacare does - for EVERYONE - including the 250 million Americans who already have access to health care, either through insurance or Medicare, and the 48 million who have been shut out, to fend for themselves. It's not like the information is not out there: this list is mainly based on information from the Health & Human Services site (www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/bystate/Making-a-Difference-National.html). These are facts, not myths (I dare you to find which of these are not true). Kindly let me know which of these "benefits" you would like to eliminate:
Because of Obamacare:
- Health insurance companies now have to spend at least 80 cents of your premium dollar on health care or improvements to care, or provide you a refund. (Before 33% of every premium dollar you spent went for compensation, marketing and profit, compared to just 2-3% "overhead" for Medicare). In 2012, 8.5 million consumers received $500 million in refunds – with the average consumer receiving a refund of around $100 per family (that's money that gets spent in the economy). Moreover, 77.8 million consumers saved $3.4 billion up front on their premiums as insurance companies operated more efficiently as compared to 2011.
- For the first time ever, insurance companies in every state must publicly justify any rate increase of 10 percent or more. Since implementing the law, the fraction of requests for insurance premium increases of 10 percent or more has dropped dramatically, from 75 percent to 14 percent. To date, the rate review program has helped save Americans an estimated $1 billion. In fact, premium rates have increased at the lowest rate in decades - important considering that premiums had been rising at 3 to 5 times the CPI, and 5 to 10 times the amount that wages have increased. That means that every dollar of wage increase in the past decade went to pay higher health premiums.
- Insurance companies can no longer rescind your coverage because you get sick or because you made a mistake on an application. And they can no longer limit lifetime coverage to a fixed dollar amount. Already 105 million Americans no longer have a lifetime limit on essential health benefits, thanks to the law.
- 129 million non-elderly Americans have some type of pre-existing health condition, including 17.6 million children. Today, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition, like asthma or diabetes, under the health care law. And beginning in 2014, health insurers will no longer be able to charge more or deny coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing condition. The health care law also established a temporary health insurance program for individuals who were denied health insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Over 110,000 Americans with pre-existing conditions have gained coverage through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan since the program’s inception.
- The health care law has allowed 3.1 million young adults who would otherwise have been uninsured to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.
A Stronger Medicare Program
- The Affordable Care Act is closing the gap in drug coverage known as the "donut hole." Since the enactment of the law, over 6.6 million Americans with Medicare who reached the donut hole have saved a total of over $7 billion on prescription drugs, or an average of $1,061 per person. The average person with Medicare will save approximately $5,000 from 2010 to 2022, while those with high prescription drug costs will save much more – as much as $18,000 over the same period.
- The health care law helps stop fraud with tougher screening procedures, stronger penalties, and new technology. Over the last four years, the administration’s fraud enforcement efforts have recovered $14.9 billion from fraudsters. For every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse activities in the last three years the administration has returned $7.90.
- The health care law extends the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by ten years. From 2010 to 2012, Medicare spending per beneficiary grew at 1.7 percent annually, substantially more slowly than the per capita rate of growth in the economy.
- Every year, about 2.6 million seniors – or nearly one in five hospitalized Medicare enrollees – are readmitted within 30 days of discharge, at a cost of more than $26 billion to the Medicare program. The health care law ties Medicare reimbursement for hospitals to their readmission rates. In 2012, an estimated 70,000 readmissions were avoided.
- The health care law focuses on driving a smarter health care system focused on the quality, not quantity of care. Already, more than 250 organizations are participating in one of Medicare’s Accountable Care Organization programs, which encourage quality and care coordination through the use of health information technology. Together, these initiatives are improving primary care for nearly 4 million people with Medicare and are expected to save up to $940 million in the first four years.
- The health care law requires most insurance plans to cover recommended preventive care without cost-sharing. Already, 71 million Americans with private health insurance have gained preventive service coverage without cost-sharing, including nearly 27 million women. In 2012 alone, an estimated 34 million people with Medicare received one or more preventive services with no cost-sharing, including those who took advantage of the new Annual Wellness Visit.
- Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires most health plans in the individual and small group markets to cover ten essential health benefit categories, to include hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, and mental health and substance use disorder services. In the individual market alone, 8.7 million Americans will gain maternity coverage because of the health care law. And the Affordable Care Act expands mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections for 62 million Americans.
- The health care law invests in training and support for thousands of new primary care doctors and nurses by providing bonus payments, scholarships and loan repayment, and new training opportunities. The number of primary care providers in the National Health Service Corps are at all-time highs, and have more than doubled since 2008.
- The Affordable Care Act makes an unprecedented investment in promoting wellness, preventing disease, and protecting against public health emergencies. Prevention and Public Health Fund initiatives like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Transformation Grants advance health and wellness and empower communities to design and implement strategies to prevent chronic diseases.
- The Affordable Care Act dramatically increased funding for the operation, expansion and construction of health centers nationwide. Today, 1,200 health centers operate nearly 9,000 service delivery sites that provide primary care to more than 21 million patients annually.
- Beginning in 2014, 41.3 million uninsured Americans will have new opportunities for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace will make it easy for you to compare qualified health plans, get answers to questions, find out if you are eligible for lower costs for private insurance or health programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and enroll in health coverage that meets your needs.
- In 2014, 49 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories will have received a total of nearly $4.2 billion in grants to establish their marketplaces. 17 states (including the District of Columbia), will fully run their own Marketplace. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will fully run a Marketplace in 19 states. In 15 states, HHS will work with the state to run a Marketplace. But no matter what state a consumer lives in, he or she will be able to shop seamlessly for coverage through the Marketplace.
- To date, more than 120 issuers have applied to offer qualified health plans in the HHS-run Marketplace. In the states with early data, an estimated 80 percent of the people who are expected to enroll in a health plan through the Marketplace will be able to choose from five or more insurance companies. In many states today, the health insurance marketplace is highly concentrated and only one or two issuers control a majority of market share. On average, issuers plan to offer more than 15 qualified health plans per state.
- Small employers will be able to choose from a range of coverage options for their employees through the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP. Eligible employers may qualify for a tax credit worth up to 50 percent of the employer’s premium contribution to a SHOP plan. In 2014, SHOPs will have the flexibility to decide whether employers can let their employees choose from a number of plans, or can offer their employees one plan that the employer chooses.
- New member-run, non-profit health insurers, called Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OPs) will offer coverage inside and outside the Marketplace. To date, 24 non-profits that plan to offer coverage in 24 states have been awarded nearly $2 billion to set up CO-OPs.
- States have new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals with family incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (generally $31,322 for a family of four in 2013). This expansion includes non-elderly adults without dependent children, who have not previously been eligible in most states.
- Consumers will be able to fill out one application to see if they qualify for a range of health coverage options - including plans in the Marketplace, Medicaid and CHIP - or lower costs on monthly premiums based on their income. For many, the three-page application for individual market Marketplace coverage can be completed, on average, in just 10 minutes, which is much shorter than the industry standard today. You can fill out the application online, in person, over the phone or via mail. The SHOP employee and employer paper applications are two and three pages, respectively.
- Consumers will have access to a number of resources to learn about the Marketplace and navigate their coverage options. They can get in-person assistance from Navigators, non-Navigator assistance personnel, certified application counselors, and/or agents and brokers. Community Health Centers in all 50 states have also received a total of $150 million in federal grants to help enroll uninsured Americans.
Get the facts: www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/bystate/statebystate.html.
Visit HealthCare.gov to get ready for open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace on Oct. 1. It includes a 24/7 live chat function, and the newly launched Marketplace call center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week (1-800-318-2596 toll free, or 1-855-889-4325 for the hearing impaired). Spanish-speaking consumers can go to CuidadoDeSalud.gov.
As for the falsehoods the 72-year old dentist spews about how people on Medicare will be impacted by Obamacare, US News exposed 5 myths about ACA and Medicare (circulated by a nonpartisan advocacy group, Medicare Rights Center, see health.usnews.com/health-news/health-insurance/articles/2013/08/19/will-obamacare-affect-medicare-myths-and-facts ):
“Medicare is ending.”
False. The ACA is not replacing Medicare, and Medicare has grown stronger as a result of the ACA. In fact, the ACA adds years to the solvency of Medicare’s Part A Trust Fund, increasing the years of the program’s guaranteed benefits to 2026, 10 years longer than before the ACA.
“Seniors on Medicare must buy more health insurance to comply with the ACA.”
False. Seniors and people with disabilities will not be required to purchase more health insurance coverage to comply with the ACA. Further, Medicare beneficiaries will not need to purchase health insurance in the new marketplaces.
“Medicare beneficiaries will pay more for their medications under [the ACA].”
False. While the Part D premium will increase slightly for Medicare beneficiaries with higher incomes (individuals with annual incomes over $85,000 or couples with annual incomes over $170,000), the majority of Medicare beneficiaries have already started paying less for their prescriptions. Over time, the ACA closes the prescription drug coverage gap, or doughnut hole, and according to a recent CMS press release, more than 6 million seniors had saved over $7 billion on prescription drugs at the end of June 2013. (And keep in mind, Republicans want to eviscerate Medicare and turn it into a voucher program.)
“Medicare beneficiaries won’t be able to see their current doctors.”
False. Nothing in the ACA expressly changes the doctors that Medicare beneficiaries can see.
“Medicare premiums are rising.”
False. The ACA has not attributed to the rise in Medicare premiums. In fact, Medicare costs are rising more slowly as a result of provisions in the ACA. Also, according to the most recent Medicare Trustees’ Report, the Medicare Part B premium will remain relatively unchanged between 2013 and 2014, and Medicare Advantage plan premiums as well as Part D premiums are also stable year-to-year generally.
What's So Scary?
So let's discuss. What's so scary about Obamacare that Republicans are willing to shut government and crash the economy? As Jim DeMint - the guy who resigned from the Senate to run The Heritage foundation, put it, Obamacare is more damaging to America “than anything I’ve seen pass in my lifetime.”
Beginning Jan 1, 2014, all Americans will be "mandated" to have health insurance or pay a fine. Essentially, though, since just about everybody in their lifetime requires medical treatment at some point, we taxpayers paid the "fine" for those without insurance because we subsidize the emergency rooms (and how does that have anything to do with treatment after the initial emergency?)
But if you're purchasing individual insurance and you earn less than $45,000 per year (or a family of four that earns less than $94,000), you could be eligible for financial assistance to help pay for health insurance. And that also applies to people who currently buy their own health insurance—nearly half of them will be eligible as well.
What are Republicans so worried about they are willing to shut down government unless Obama withdraws Affordable Care and the Koch Brothers are willing to spend millions of dollars to undermine it?
First, that Americans will actually like Obamacare and not want to give it up. Also, that the success of Obamacare will lead people to trust that Government in the right hands, can actually do go (OMG, is renewable energy next? tax reform? public education funding? infrastructure investment????).
What is more, Obamacare breaks the dependency of workers on their employer for their health insurance (like serfdom), and their great fear that if they leave, they will lose health insurance for their entire family. But if you aren't a prisoner to your employer, you can demand higher wages and better conditions. Or you can go off and start your own business. That also goes for spouses afraid to leave abusive relationships for fear of losing health insurance.
But I think it is much more insidious. Health care is not just a HUGE profit-making sector for CEOs who pocket a billion dollars (think about how many health procedures have been nixed to pay that), but living without health insurance increases health and financial insecurity. Half of all personal bankruptcies are related to health emergencies; a single medical emergency can wipe out a lifetime of savings and the prospect for college, a home, retirement. You can't be very politically active if you are fighting disease, suffering in pain or misery, or if you are watching the suffering of your child, spouse, or parent. Health care is such a big-out-of-pocket expense, it is a big, big reason why there is such a income gap between the 1% and everyone else. And that income gap is also a power gap.
What else do Republicans and the One Percenters fear? They fear that there will be 30 million more people in doctors' offices and they might have to wait for care because we don't produce enough doctors. In fact the ACA - for the first time - also addresses incentives for training of doctors and nurses and opening new clinics - something that is desperately needed anyway. In fact, we already face a crisis of care, with the aging Baby Boomers (there is only one geriatric doctor per 8500 people over 65), we will soon be faced with a crisis regardless.
And despite the criticisms to the contrary, ACA also begins to address the obscene cost of health care.
Finally, the anti-Obamacare fanatics have made the claim that Affordable Health Care will somehow hurt the budget deficit. But last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the health care law would add more than $100 billion to the deficit over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the following decade.
Learn more about the Affordable Health Care Act at Reach Out America's Wednesday, Nov 20 meeting at Unitarian Universalist Church, Shelter Rock Road, Manhasset (meeting at 12:30 pm, speaker at 2 pm). The speaker is Leonard Rodberg, Chair of Urban Studies at Queens College, where he teaches health policy, and a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
© 2013 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. 'Like' us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.