September 7, 2018
Perspective by Chris Rochester
Now that a Republican occupies the White House, Obamacare cheerleaders are sounding a lot like Obamacare critics have sounded for years.
Foes of President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker have suddenly noticed that Obamacare is a disaster for middle-class Americans who don’t get federal subsidies. And they’ve abandoned their usual answer to the problem, now bemoaning the very corporate welfare that Obamacare can’t live without.
“The fact is that costs in Wisconsin have gone up 44 percent for those folks on the individual market who make too much to qualify for federal subsidies,” bemoaned liberal columnist Emily Mills in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
She’s right that health insurance costs have spiraled out of control, including in Wisconsin. And middle-class Americans who don’t get federal subsidies to paper over the high cost of the insurance have indeed been suffering under the law. But instead of owning the law’s failure to “bend the cost curve down,” Mills simply blames Republicans.
The fact is that the “Affordable” Care Act was never affordable. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, average premiums more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, spiking by 105 percent. That was before the Trump administration shut off the subsidy spigot.
For those who don’t know how this works, apparently including many left-wing Trump critics, rates for the 2017 plan year were finalized before the 2016 election and before any of Trump’s “sabotage.”
In fact, MacIver’s 2016 report on Obamacare costs in Wisconsin found that monthly premiums averaged a 16 percent increase, and the average silver plan premium was $1,297.02 for a family of four without subsidies. The deductible averaged $7,015.71 annually.
Do liberals consider that “affordable?” Since we didn’t hear any breathless pleas on behalf of the unsubsidized middle class while Obama was president, apparently they do.
Liberals are also very worried about Walker’s reinsurance program, which recently got the approval of the Trump administration. Walker’s plan uses state and federal money to cover a portion of private insurers’ claims that fall between certain amounts.
The Walker administration expects the plan to cost $200 million each year, with the state’s share clocking in at $36 million. Next door, a similar plan to rescue hundreds of thousands of middle-class Minnesotans from the Obamacare price spiral has cost that state’s taxpayers more than $800 million and counting.
“More corporate subsidies are not the answer,” barked Citizen Action of Wisconsin executive director Robert Kraig in a recent press release.
Kraig is right – more corporate subsidies are not the answer, unless you’re an Obamacare cheerleader angry about Republicans “sabotaging” the ACA by pulling the plug on corporate subsidies.
Conservatives, like the ones who insisted Trump end the illegal Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies that were never authorized by Congress, have been pointing out for years that Obamacare’s reliance on corporate handouts is just another sign that it’s terrible public policy.
The need for Walker’s reinsurance plan to stave off another round of massive premium increases is another one. How much more evidence do liberals need that their beloved government takeover of health care is a giant flop?
In any case, these criticisms are missing the point. These CSR payments make up about 15 percent of premiums. For 2018, premiums in Wisconsin went up 44 percent. So even if the payments had continued, Wisconsin’s rate increase would have been another catastrophic blow for the very middle class about whom liberals now purport to be so concerned.
In other words, absent a pipeline of taxpayer money, Obamacare is even worse – especially for the middle class.
The left’s newfound concerns are pure political opportunism to push for its real goal: single-payer health care, the ultimate doubling down on Obamacare’s failures.
And the failures aren’t a bug in Obamacare, they’re a feature of any big government solution to the nation’s health care woes. Its morass of mandates and restrictions forces higher-cost, one-size-fits-all coverage on people, pricing healthy individuals out of the market and leaving an insurance marketplace packed with ever-more expensive enrollees and fewer and fewer healthy enrollees to offset their high costs.
The resulting cost spiral has dragged down many middle-class families in its undertow because they don’t qualify for federal subsidies and are forced to foot the full cost of increasing out-of-pocket expenses.
Because its prices are inherently unaffordable, Obamacare relies on limiting consumer choice to force people into plans they would have never chosen absent coverage mandates. That’s probably why the left was apoplectic when Trump expanded consumer choice by making association health plans and limited-term health plans more readily available.
The left loves to shift the blame for Obamacare’s price spiral onto Trump and Republicans. But the cornerstone to its assertions of “sabotage” is that Trump scaled back the law’s corporate handouts and expanded consumer choice to include plans that are more affordable to those who don’t qualify for federal help.
If that’s sabotage, bring it on.
If Kraig and Mills seriously believed their own arguments, they should be praising Republicans and joining in the calls to repeal Obamacare and replace it with actual health care reform that takes power away from federal bureaucrats and gives it to doctors and patients.
But they’re still trying to blame Trump and Walker in service of the larger agenda, which is a single-payer nightmare that would make the ACA’s problems look like a stubbed toe.
Health care will never be more affordable or more accessible so long as we continue down the road of more government, more mandates, and less consumer choice.