February 2, 2014 in Opinion

Gary Crooks: Affordable Care Act critics risk credibility

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Have you heard? President Barack Obama wants to “bail out” the insurance companies participating in the Affordable Care Act. It’s so positively scandalous that U.S. Sen. Mario Rubio, who just happens to covet the presidency, is riding to the rescue with a bill.

Some background is in order. Because the Affordable Care Act creates a new market for individual policies, insurers had to do some guesswork in establishing premium prices for health care coverage sold in the exchanges. The law establishes three programs – risk adjustment, risk corridors and reinsurance – to make sure companies don’t get creamed if they end up with an inordinate number of customers who run up big bills, as a recent Wall Street Journal article explains. Remember, they can no longer turn people away.

Rubio and other conservatives are calling this “a bailout,” rather than an enticement to offer private plans.

As with any political attack, this greatly simplifies matters and omits inconvenient facts. Some Republicans have characterized this as one of the hidden features of Obamacare, which is another way of saying they’re just getting up to speed.

If critics were cognizant of health insurance policy, they would’ve recognized these risk absorbers from Medicare Part D, because they’re embedded in that law, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president. That’s right – the prescription drug benefit for seniors is in its ninth year of “bailing out” insurance companies, except nobody calls it that.

Two of the three Affordable Care Act risk programs expire in three years, after insurance companies have had time to set rates against prevailing realities. Congress set no expiration date on risk reduction for prescription drug insurers.

So if you still consider this a bailout, then the Medicare version should raise hackles the highest. But Rubio is limiting his bill to Obamacare, because, well, Obama!

Sight unseen. The latest Obamascare story from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is illuminating. Rather than confirm a constituent’s health insurance complaint, she turned it into an errant salvo against the new law in her national response to the State of the Union address.

“Not long ago I got a letter from Bette in Spokane, who hoped the president’s health care law would save her money – but found out instead that her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month,” the congresswoman said.

Can’t say I was surprised at the anecdotal abuse since she said a while back that a Garfield woman “lost her health insurance because of Obamacare.” The insurance company told me the law had nothing to do with the policy being discontinued, as I wrote in a Dec. 22 column.

As for the latest victim of lost coverage, “Bette of Spokane” didn’t use the new health insurance exchange to shop for a replacement. In fact, she adamantly refuses to do so, telling The Spokesman-Review: “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all.”

That’s certainly her prerogative, but McMorris Rodgers’ spin has me imagining this conversation:

“Interstate 90 doesn’t work for me.”

“Have you ever been on it?”

“No.”

Just add fertilizer. The farm bill passed last week in the House of Representatives, and it includes beefed-up crop insurance to ease the risk for farmers.

The Wall Street Journal explains: “Under the current crop-insurance program, which is projected to cost taxpayers $84 billion over 10 years, the federal government subsidized nearly 63 percent of the average premium in 2012. With the new supplemental crop insurance, which would help cover out-of-pocket losses, the U.S. would subsidize 65 percent of premiums.”

Unlike Obamacare, crop insurance isn’t means-tested, which means rich farmers can also tap this government aid. And unlike Obamacare, most Republicans supported the subsidies.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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