The ObamaCare Panic

Here’s what I like least about being a Democrat: Way too often, when the conservative media machine either exaggerates or completely invents an issue, our leaders — in the media, in Congress, and even the administration — wilt under the pressure. Rather than rather than defend good policy (or even defend reality sometimes), they start legitimizing the phony issue created by their enemies.

Remember the bogus ACORN pimp video? It was a fraud perpetrated by conservative “journalist” James O’Keefe, for which he and his partner ultimately paid an ACORN employee $150,000 in damages. But the truth came out only after Congress had been stampeded into passing a law  banning ACORN from applying for federal contracts. (Ultimately, a GAO investigation found no evidence that ACORN had mishandled federal funds.) ACORN was forced into bankruptcy and no longer exists. So Democrats in Congress assisted in destroying an organization whose main sins were registering poor people to vote and trying to raise the minimum wage.

Good job, guys.

Over the years panicked Democrats have authorized the Iraq invasion without looking too hard at the “intelligence” the Bush administration supplied, supported torture, abandoned a public option in ObamaCare even though the public wanted it, and given in to the idea that the deficit — and not creating jobs — is the top economic problem.

Remember when the Obama administration fired Shirley Sherrod? On the basis of yet another video doctored by conservative activists? Even Bill O’Reilly apologized for that one.

Just last spring, Democratic Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus proclaimed the IRS scandal an “outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust” while Senator Joe Manchin railed: “The actions of the IRS are unacceptable and un-American. … The president must immediately condemn this attack on our values, find those individuals in his administration who are responsible and fire them.”

Yeah, that one was bogus too.

So now we get to ObamaCare. The* web site has been a problem and first month sign-ups were below expectations. That has created an atmosphere of trouble around the program, which the conservative media exploited by drumming up a bunch of ObamaCare-killed-my-dog stories. A lot of them have been fabricated from nothing, and most of the rest are exaggerations.

Small business. Sean Hannity devoted a whole show to “victims” of ObamaCare. A tiny amount of follow-up by Salon’s Eric Stern showed that none of Hannity’s guests were actually victimized.

First I spoke with Paul Cox of Leicester, N.C.  He and his wife Michelle had lamented to Hannity that because of Obamacare, they can’t grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers.

Obamacare has no effect on businesses with 49 employees or less. But in our brief conversation on the phone, Paul revealed that he has only four employees. Why the cutback on his workforce? “Well,” he said, “I haven’t been forced to do so, it’s just that I’ve chosen to do so. I have to deal with increased costs.” What costs? And how, I asked him, is any of it due to Obamacare? There was a long pause, after which he said he’d call me back. He never did.

There is only one Obamacare requirement that applies to a company of this size: workers must be notified of the existence of the “” website, the insurance exchange. That’s all.

Fox’ Megyn Kelly did a similar segment on a car-wash-chain owner who claimed he sold his business because of ObamaCare. Stern again followed up. It turns out Kelly had asked for no information to verify the impact of ObamaCare on the business. Stern’s interview paints a more complete portrait: The guy had been thinking about selling out for several years, he didn’t like Obama anyway, and the prospect of figuring out how ObamaCare would affect his business gave him an aw-fuck-it moment. In short, not exactly a horror story.

Hannity claimed, “These are the stories that the media refuses to cover.” But in fact the stories that aren’t getting covered are the positive ones. TPM’s Josh Marshall is in the perfect position to cover ObamaCare’s effect on small business, because TPM is itself a 20-employee business. He sums up:

[A]t least on year one in New York State, Obamacare seems to basically be a wash for us in terms of premiums versus last year. However, it’s arguably saving us money since this will be the smallest year over year premium increase since we bought our first group policy back in 2005.

I’m sure Megyn Kelly will be featuring Josh on her show any day now.

Canceled policies. The whole point of ObamaCare was to solve two problems: Nearly 50 million Americans had no health insurance at all, and about another 30 million had bad insurance; they might be insured against a broken arm or something similarly minor and fixable, but their policies either

  • didn’t cover the health problems they were most likely to have (i.e., complications from pre-existing conditions)
  • or had benefit caps that made the policy useless in the face of a major health issue,
  • or the insurance company could cancel the policy if they had the audacity to get sick.

Consumer Reports tells this story:

Judith Goss, 48, of Macomb, Mich., believed that the Cigna plan she obtained through her job at the Talbots retail chain was “some type of insurance that would cover something.” When the store she worked at closed in January 2011, she even paid $65 a month to keep the coverage through COBRA.

“I was aware that it wasn’t a great plan, but I wasn’t concerned because I wasn’t sick,” she says. But in July 2011 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, at which point the policy’s annual limits of $1,000 a year for outpatient treatment and $2,000 for hospitalization became a huge problem. Facing a $30,000 hospital bill, she delayed treatment. “Finally my surgeon said, ‘Judy, you can’t wait anymore.’ While I was waiting my tumor became larger. It was 3 centimeters when they found it and 9 centimeters when they took it out.”

That’s what you should picture when you hear about canceled policies. Replacing junk insurance with real insurance is part of the good news of ObamaCare.

Of course if you don’t get sick, you don’t notice that your insurance sucks. Such was the case of Dianne Barrette, a Florida woman CBS found whose inexpensive policy is being cancelled. Her story went viral, so Consumer Reports looked into it:

“She’s paying $650 a year to be uninsured,” Karen Pollitz, an insurance expert at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, said. “I have to assume that she never really had to make much of a claim under this policy. She would have lost the house she’s sitting in if something serious had happened. I don’t know if she knows that.”

Yes, President Obama did say “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” in response to the liars who claimed that ObamaCare was a government takeover that would totally disrupt everyone’s health insurance. (Herman Cain, a cancer survivor whose coverage as a millionaire CEO would have been completely unaffected, claimed ObamaCare would have killed him.) Clearly Obama overlooked the possibility that you might like your junk insurance because you’re an effing idiot.

The media is also overlooking the possibility that when insurance companies say they have to cancel your plan and your new plan will cost more because of ObamaCare, they might be lying. TPM reports:

Across the country, insurance companies have sent misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the companies’ own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare marketplaces — which could lead to people like Donna spending thousands more for insurance than the law intended.

Real ObamaCare “losers”. The exception are these folks, a couple found by Pro Publica. Because they were in a risk group cherry-picked by the insurance company to be people who never got sick, their premiums were lower than any policy for the general public can be. Since there’s no way to solve the overall health insurance problem while cherry-picking the healthy for special rates, they end up being ObamaCare “losers”.

But a TPM reader who shares their “plight” puts his situation in perspective:

Having insurance, even crappy insurance, in the individual market means we are almost by definition, healthy and relatively young. If we were not, we wouldn’t be able to get coverage of any kind in the non-group market. If our ACA-compliant replacement policy costs us more, it’s likely because we’re too affluent to qualify for subsidies.

It takes a remarkable degree of self-absorption and sense of self-entitlement to be healthy, young(ish) and affluent—and yet consider oneself a “loser.” It’s a label I reject out of shame (no matter how much the lazy, superficial MSM want to fixate on me and my “plight”) NOT because there’s anything shameful about being a loser; the shame is in thinking oneself a loser when one is actually fortunate.

Again, the positive cancelation stories aren’t getting covered. This week, one of my FaceBook friends posted his experience:

I got the notice yesterday from Anthem Blue Cross that my insurance isn’t ACA compatible and will be cancelled. I’m one of the million or so Californians to have their insurance cancelled.

If I do nothing, Anthem will automatically switch me to a comparable (slightly better) plan. The good news – it will cost $265/month LESS than the old plan! Woo-hoo! I think that the difference is because I no longer have to pay the higher HIPAA premium rate because of my pre-existing conditions. Thank you, Obamacare.

Wilting Democrats. If you believe that the major news properties are liberal, you might expect a lot of front-page stories debunking the ObamaCare panic stories. Guess again.

The so-called liberal media has piled on to the anti-ObamaCare memes promoted by Fox News, like a front-page NYT story comparing ObamaCare to Hurricane Katrina. The best response I found was this chart:

But what about Democratic politicians? Surely they are outraged at the unfair coverage and are jumping up and down to defend good policy and debunk BS.

You don’t know many Democratic politicians, do you?

The drumbeat of (largely bogus) negative media is having an effect on public opinion. President Obama’s approval rating is down to 39% in one poll. So of course the Democratic response is to deflect the short-term public ire by undermining the long-term viability of the program.

So when House Republicans put forward a bill that would give insurance companies the option to keep offering junk insurance plans — because it’s all about the rights of big corporations, not people — 39 Democrats voted for it.

Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu’s bill to let individuals decide to keep their non-compliant plans is just slightly better, but Ezra Klein points out the problem

Put simply, the Landrieu bill solves one of Obamacare’s political problems at the cost of worsening its most serious policy problem: Adverse selection. Right now, the difficulty of signing up is deterring all but the most grimly determined enrollees. The most determined enrollees are, by and large, sicker and older. So the Web site’s problems are leading to a sicker, older risk pool. Landrieu’s bill will lead to a sicker, older risk pool.

And that means premiums will go up. Similarly, President Obama’s “fix” will let insurers keep offering non-compliant plans for another year. It’s hard to tell how many insurance companies will “uncancel” canceled plans or what this will do to the risk pool. But the general effect is also to address a short-term political problem by making the long-term policy problems worse.

The most annoying thing from my point of view is that this short-term-politics/long-term-policy tradeoff probably won’t even work. It never does. Instead, it will just add to the vague public sense that ObamaCare is a bad law, rather than the huge improvement on the status quo that it is.

I’m with Chris Hayes on this one: The only way out is through. For the Democrats, the best thing to do politically is to do the best thing policy-wise. Going wobbly on ObamaCare is not going to get you any conservative votes in the next election. What’s going to get votes for all Democrats is to make this thing work.

After all, Democrats in Congress, you’ve gone squishy before in the face of short-term bad publicity. Iraq. Torture. ACORN. How has that worked out for you?

* By the way, I finally decided to try out Saturday morning, and it worked way better than press reports had led me to believe. The response time was good. Without creating an account, I was quickly able to see sample plans and rates in my area. It was easy to create an account and input information about myself and my wife.

I stopped short of applying for insurance, because we like the insurance we get through my wife’s job. (And like the man said, we can keep it.) So I can’t vouch for the end-to-end process, which apparently was still having problems as of Friday. But if you need or want health insurance and the horror stories have been keeping you from trying to get it, you should definitely make an attempt and see what happens. Probably, you’ll at worst get to a point where you’re one click from success. And then at some point the back end will be fixed and you can go do that click.

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  • Anonymous  On November 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    I fear this misses the point – millions of people’s policies are being canceled. If they can’t manage to get new policies in time they will loose coverage and it follows either have to pay out of pocket or simply not receive the healthcare they need.

    That’s is a real problem – not a pr stunt. Perhaps you are willing to take that risk on behalf of the American public and bluster through, but lots of people would be reasonably hugely concerned.

    Furthermore is anyone even slightly concerned that the President of the United States is encouraging people to break the law. After pulling out all stops to push the ACA through both houses, the President says you can go ahead and ignore that, why, because I said so. So the rule of law, separation of powers, all that’s out the window? How does that work? Doesn’t the actual legislature need to resolve this?

    • weeklysift  On November 20, 2013 at 7:42 am

      The same right-wing media that trumps up the canceled-coverage stories also pushes this Obama-is-breaking-the-law meme. We have courts, and a Supreme Court with a conservative majority. If any actual laws are being broken, there are places ready to hear those claims.

  • Anonymous  On November 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    You are delusional.


  • By Repetition | The Weekly Sift on November 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm

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  • By The Yearly Sift: 2013 | The Weekly Sift on December 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    […] long run, I still believe the point I was making: Much of the unpopularity of ObamaCare stems from horror stories that don’t stand up to scrutiny; conversely, the reality of getting health insurance and knowing you can keep it is going to be […]

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