Why Are So Many Americans Confused About Obamacare? How a Video Produced by CBS’ Washington Bureau Misled Millions –Part 1

For nearly four years, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans remain flummoxed by Obamacare.  Many are confused; some are afraid. They don’t know what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) says, and they don’t know how it will affect their lives

From the beginning, many in the media have blamed the White House.

Early in 2011, when a CBS poll showed that only 56% of Americans said the bill’s impact had not been explained well—or even “somewhat well”– CBS senior producer Ward Sloane summed up the prevailing view: “To me, that is a Monumental Failure by the Obama Administration. . . . [my emphasis]  And it opens up a big hole for the Republicans which they have driven through with, you know, several tanks.

Because Democrats had botched explaining the legislation, Sloane argued, Republicans “can say whatever they want about the healthcare bill … whether it’s true or not, and  . . . it will resonate . . .  People are afraid. People are afraid of things that they don’t understand and they don’t know. . . The Republicans are playing to this fear and they’re doing a masterful job.”

Sloane slid over the role that reporters might play in helping the public understand an enormous—and enormously important– piece of legislation.  If Republicans were spreading disinformation, shouldn’t news organizations like CBS try to separate fact from fiction?

Network and cable news shows are in our living rooms every evening. President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are not. In speeches and in press conferences Obama and Sebelius can address a handful of questions, but they cannot explain the hundreds of interlocking details that will benefit millions of Americans. The public needs an independent, informed press that will dig into the major provisions of Obamacare and explain them, not once, but again and again.

There was just one problem: As Sloane suggested, the Republicans were doing “a masterful job” of misleading the public. What he didn’t take into account is that journalists are part of “the public.”

                      The Networks Spread Fear and Confusion

Fast forward two years to the fall of 2013.

Little has changed; most Americans still don’t understand the Affordable Care Act, and many are convinced that they have been betrayed by the president they elected.

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Did President Obama “Lie” When He Said “If You Like the Policy You Have, You Can Keep It”? Context Is Everything

How many times have you heard that the President of the United State “lied” to the American people when he said “If you like the policy you have, you can keep it?”  Even some liberals have swallowed this Republican talking point.

In December, Politifact, the Tampa Times Pulitzer-prize-winning online fact-checker, went so far as to name Obama’s  statement “the lie of the year.”

Since then, the story has generated headlines like this one: ““Reporter Asks Obama, “What’s It Like to Be Called Liar of the Year?” 

What most people don’t recall is that in 2008 m when President Obama first uttered those fateful words, Politifact—the very same fact-checking organization– graded his statement as “True.”

What is going on here?

                          Context: Who Was Obama’s Audience?

It should come as no surprise that Obamacare’s opponents ripped the president’s original statement out of context. This was easy to do because so few people remember the third Obama/McCain debate that took place in Hempstead, New York, on Oct. 15, 2008.  During this debate then-Senator Obama uttered the words that would haunt him: “you can keep your plan.”  

A transcript of the debate reveals what he meant. In response to a question from the debate’s moderator, Obama laid out a thumbnail sketch of healthcare reform:  “Here’s what my plan does. If you have health insurance, then you don’t have to do anything. If you’ve got health insurance through your employer, you can keep your health insurance, keep your choice of doctor, keep your plan.”

Obama had said something similar in his second debate with McCain a week earlier, in Nashville Tennessee.  “If you’ve got health care already, and probably the majority of you do, then you can keep your plan if you are satisfied with it. You can keep your choice of doctor.”

Few remember that when Obama assured Americans that the Affordable Care Act would not interfere with the benefits they had, he was addressing “the majority” of insured Americans–people who worked for large companies that offered comprehensive coverage.  More than two-thirds of the American work-force is employed by firms with more than 100 workers, and at the time, 99% of large companies offered health benefits.  He was not talking to the 5% of Americans who purchased their own coverage in the individual market, or the 17% who were covered by a small firm. (Only 35% of the U.S. work-force is employed by small companies and less than half of those firms offer health insurance.)

                 Context: What Was the Issue Obama and McCain Were Addressing?

In  2008 when Americans who had good health benefits at work heard the phrase “healthcare reform,” many worried that this would mean a “government takeover” that would eliminate their employer-sponsored plans. In short, they feared a single-payer system. Obama was trying to reassure them that this wouldn’t happen.

At the time, Politifact understood that this was the concern that Obama was addressing.  Here is what Politifact’s Angie Holan wrote in October of 2008:

Obama is accurately describing his health care plan here. He advocates a program that seeks to build on the current system, rather than dismantling it and starting over. People who want to keep their current insurance should be able to do that under Obama’s plan. His description of his plan is accurate, and we rate his statement True.”

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Obamacare “Horror Stories”–Who Are These People? How Many of These Stories Are True? Part 1

No doubt you have seen or read stories about innocent Americans who have become casualties of Obamacare. The law that was supposed to help middle-class families is now asking them to pay unreasonable premiums and sky-high deductibles. In many cases, they had perfectly good coverage that has been cancelled because it didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “standards.”

Trouble is, some of these anecdotes  just aren’t true. When an unbiased  reporter begins to make some phone calls, they start to fall apart.

Nevertheless,  these tales of Americans harmed by Obamacare  are being promoted by various conservative groups–including the Republican National Committee.  An internal RNC memo provides advice on how to collect stories of “victims” and feed them to the press.

Knowing this, when I read the horror stories,  I can’t  help but wonder: have the folks who are quoted checked prices on their Exchange?  Do they know  whether they are eligible for government subsidies?   How many didn’t  even try to find out because they just don’t like the ACA?  Who are these people who step forward to  identify themselves victims of the trainwreck called Obmacare? Where did they come from? How did the reporters who wrote the stories find them?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are journalists  fact checking their tales? How many are just writing down whatever their sources tell them?

          A Young Mother Suffering From MS Searches For Insurance

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a story that ran in the Fort Worth Star Telegram on November 26. The lead is compelling:

“Whitney Johnson, an Arlington 26-year-old with multiple sclerosis, can’t afford to go without health insurance. Her life depends on it.

She gave birth to her first child Sept. 2 after undergoing a series of rigorous steroid treatments, surgeries and a plasma exchange that saved her life. She pays $325 a month for an individual insurance plan – a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of her plasma protein replacement therapy, which runs $40,000 a pop. She undergoes treatment every five weeks.

But now, with the Affordable Care Act in full swing, Johnson’s insurance is under threat.. . .

Recently, the story  explains, Johnson’s insurer sent her a letter saying that because her policy “does not comply with Obamacare” it will be cancelled Jan. 1, 2014. Initially she hoped that she might shift to her husband’s employer-based health plan  For $325 a month, it covers him and their son. But it  turns out that if Whitney were added the policy, their premium would triple.

Meanwhile, she “has been unable to access the federal health exchange website” the newspaper reports, “which has been hampered by technical problems.”

In a video talking about her experience,  Johnson claims  that when she began “trying to shop around ‘ outside the Exchange, “the rates went from $1,000 to $1,800 a month for not even close to the coverage that my previous  insurance had offered me.”

This is when I knew that there was something very wrong with Johnson’s story.

                        $1000 a Month To Insure a 26-Year- Old ???

Anyone who knows anything about Obamacare would realize that under the ACA, no 26-year-old would be asked to pay $12,000 a year – even if she had MS. Obamacare does not let insurers charge more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

And Johnson is just 26. In most exchanges, 20-somethings pay far less than older Americans.  I was certain that that she could get a much better deal. It didn’t take me long to find one.

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HHS Announces How Much Insurance Will Cost in 36 State Exchanges

These are the numbers we have been waiting for. This week the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a report revealing what insurers will be allowed to charge in the largest cities in 36 states, when selling policies Americans buying their own coverage in the state “Exchanges.” The report also shows the size of the subsidies that Exchange shoppers  will receive. Previously, we had hard numbers for only 14 states.

In addition, HHS announced averaged premiums, state-wide, for Bronze and Silver plans in those 36 states. (We will be getting more information on rates in other cities very soon.)

Fear-mongers should blush.

It turns out that, on average, rates are 16% below the Congressional Budget Office’s projection—and that is BEFORE factoring in the subsidies.

I found what the report has to say about premiums in Texas particularly interesting. Many observers had suggested that while rates in the Blue States might be surprisingly low, Red States would let carriers charge far more.

I’ve written about the report—and the media’s reaction to it—here on healthinsurance.org. 

You can comment there, or return here to comment.

If you use Facebook, you may want to put a link on your Facebook page. More people need to hear the facts about Obamacare.

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Fighting Fire with Fire—What is the Point of a Limited Attack on Syria?

I can’t help but wonder what President Obama hopes to accomplish.

Are we taking military action simply to “send a message”?   If so why not use words rather than weapons?

Obama can be a powerful orator. Why not take to the bully pulpit and explain, to the world, the horrors of what is happening in Syria? .

A few days ago, New York Times columnist Charles M . Blow asked a provocative question: “Is America’s moral leadership in the world carved out by the tip of its sword?”

Wouldn’t it be better to demonstrate our “moral leadership” in some other, wiser way?  Can anyone point to an instance where a limited military action brought an end to violence?

Over at the Guardian Michael Cohen insists that we must attack in order to “enforce global norms”—in this case, the rule that the use of chemical weapons is simply beyond the pale. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/29/liberal-case-for-striking-syria  Cohen claims the taboo dates back to World War I.

Has he forgotten about our use of Napalm in Vietnam?  Is he simply too young to remember the photo of a 9-year-old girl, wailing “too hot, too hot,” as she runs down the road, “naked after blobs of sticky napalm melted through her clothes and layers of skin like jellied lava.” http://news.yahoo.com/ap-napalm-girl-photo-vietnam-war-turns-40-210339788.html

Writing for the Atlantic, James Fallows quotes budget-policy expert, Mike Lofgren: “The US has in the recent past violated international norms on aggressive war, torture, rendition of POWs, assassination, use of chemical weapons (phosphorous, napalm, etc.), land mines, ad infinitum.” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/your-labor-day-syria-reader-part-1-stevenson-and-lofgren/279254/
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Under Obamacare, Will You Receive a Subsidy to Help You Buy Your Own Insurance? We Now Have Real Numbers That Will Let You Calculate How Much You Will Receive

 

Note to Readers: A longer version of this post appeared yesterday on HealthInsurance.org.

Up until now, when Obamacare’s supporters and reform’s opponents squabbled over what insurance will cost in 2014, they had to rely on estimates and national averages. But now we have real numbers.

Eleven states have announced the rates that insurers will be charging in their Exchanges-marketplaces where individuals who don’t have employer-sponsored coverage can shop for their own insurance.

Subsidies Will Be Based On the Cost Of A Silver Plan Where You Live,

Middle-income as well as low-income people buying coverage in the Exchanges will be eligible for government subsidies that will come in the form of tax credits. Anyone earning between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) (now $11,490 to $45,960 for a single person, and up to $126, 360 for a family of six) will qualify.

Most people who are forced to buy their own insurance earn less than 400% of FPL. More affluent Americans usually work  for companies that offer comprehensive coverage.

The graph below shows average Silver plan rates in the eleven states that have disclosed premiums. (Note that these are only state averages. Premiums vary widely within a state: In some cities and counties silver plan rates will be much lower, even before you apply the subsidy.

Silver plan premiums

It’s worth noting that in these 11 states the least expensive Silver Plan costs 18% less than the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected last year. 
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The Employer Mandate is Postponed: What Does This Mean For Obamacare? Is Ezra Klein Right–Should the Employer Mandate Be Repealed?

The administration has announced that employers with more than 50 employees will not be required to offer insurance to their employees until 2015.

Originally, reform legislation said that these employers would have to offer affordable, comprehensive insurance next year—or face penalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per worker

                              Proof that Obamacare is Not Working?

Without missing a beat, Republicans have stepped forward to say that the delay is evidence that Obamacare is faililng.

What they apparently doesn’t know (or doesn’t want you to realize) is that a delay in  the employer mandate will affect only a fraction of employers, and very few employees

First, the majority of large companies already offer health insurance that includes the benefits that the Affordable Care Act labels “essential.” (The only exceptions tend to be large restaurant and retail chains)

The mandate will have the biggest impact on small companies that today, may offer insurance, but often don’t provide “comprehensive” coverage. The postponement means that these firms will have another year to think about whether they want to expand coverage—or pay a penalty,

But their employees will not be hurt by the delay.  If either a restaurant chain or a small firm doesn’t offer benefits next year, both full-time and part-time workers be able to buy their own coverage in the Individual Exchanges where the majority will be eligible for generous tax credits. The coverage available the Exchanges will be just as good as the insurance their employers will be required to offer in 2015.

As former White House health policy adviser Zeke Emanuel pointed out today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”:  “The delay of implementation of the employer mandate will impact a limited number of companies. I actually don’t think this is that big a deal,” .

Emanuel went on to point out that the “the provision only applies to employers who have 50 or more employees. He estimated that there are ibkt  200,000 total employers in the U.S. [who would be] impacted and that “94 percent already offer health insurance” to employees.

Emanuel’s estimate may be high: “You’ve got 5.7 million firms in the U.S.,” says Wharton’s Mark Duggan, who served as the top health economist at White House’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2009 to 2010. “Only 210,000 have more than 50 employees. So 96 percent of firms aren’t affected.

“Then if you look among those firms with 50 or more employees, something on the order of 95 percent offer health insurance. So it’s basically 10,000 or so employers who have more than 50 employees and don’t offer coverage. Those companies probably employ around one percent of American workers.”

 To Judge the Success of Obamacare , Don’t Over-React to Day by  Day Headlines

Emanuel  also urged taking a long-term view of what the Affordable Care Act is going to accomplish, saying: “We need to look for 2020 rather than moment to moment for changes in the system.”

I couldn’t agree more. Reforming U.S. healthcare is an enormous undertaking. As I have said in the past, it will be a process, not an event. Along the way, there will be glitches. Each time, reform’s opponents will jump up and down, insisting that the End is Nigh. Obamacare is dead.  We must  ignore them—take the long view, and forge ahead.

I am hopeful that by 2020  reform’s goals will be realized. Even then, we will continue to modify and improve reform legislation over a period of years, just as we have revised Medicare.

The notion that we must “rush” to implement every aspect the ACA is misguided. When attempting to enforce the employer mandate, an emphasis on “speed” could lead to the “train wreck” that Republicans predict. 

What is crucial is that the “Patient Proteciton and Affordable Care Act” protects as many  Americans as possible, as soon as possible, while making medical care affordable by giving those who must buy their own insurance the subsidies they need. In 2014, this will be happening.

In the meantime, we already have begun to rein in health care costs, slowing healthcare inflation from 7% or 8% a year to roughly 3%. This is only a start, but a very good start.                               

                         How Will the Delay Effect the Mid-Term Election?

Predictably, some conservatives are crowing that the delay represents a “huge set back” for Obamacare. “The Obama administration has undermined its sole claim to greatness and delivered a blow to Democrats on the ballot in 2014,” writes Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin. /

 In truth, this is far from a major setback for reform. Apparently Rubin doesn’t realize how few employers will be affected, and perhaps she doesn’t understand that without the employer mandate, even if these employers don’t offer benfits, the majority of their workers will be eligible for tax credits in the Indivudal Exchanges,

As for the effect on candidates running in 2014, even Fox News recogizes that Republicans, not Democrats are most likely to be hurt. 

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If You Buy Your Own Insurance in the Exchanges, Will You Receive a Government Subsidy? How Much Will it Be for Couple, or a Family of Five?

ACA tax credits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:

No doubt you have read that if you are single, and earn less than 400% of the Federal Poverty threshhold (roughly $46,000 for an individual or $94,200 for a family of four) you will be eligible for a tax credit to help you cover the cost of insurance premiums.

But most of us don’t fit into one of those two categories. What if you are a couple, or a family of three? What happens if you have four kids?.

As the table above reveals, if a couple has  four children  and earns less  than $126,360 (400% of the FPL), they will be elibigle for the tax credits. Note: these credits are available only if you are self-employed, unemployed, or work for a company that does not offer affordable, comprehensive insurance. “Affordable” is defined as individual coverage that costs less than  9.5% of your income.

The credits are designed to make sure that no one who purchases their own insurance is forced to spend more than 9.5% of their income on health care. For instance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF’s) new subsidy calculator, coverage for a 35-year-old couple with three children might cost $13,101./(This is an estimate; actual premiums will vary depending on where you live. Healthcare is much more expensive in some states than in others. ) If the parents earned roughly $100,000 a year, they would be asked to pay $9,500 toward their insurance and would receive a tax credit of $3,626.

This assumes that they purchase a “silver plan” which pays for an average of 70% of covered benefits. The family would owe the other 30% in  the form co-pays and deductibles. But keep in mind that preventive care is free, there are no co-pays and the deductible does not apply.

Assuming they need care other than preventive care, total out-of-pocket spending would be capped at $12,750, even if the entire family wound up in a car accident, three of them were hospitalized, and two needed surgery.

If they preferred, the family could purchase a less expensive Bronze plan which would pay for 60% of covered benefits. Their co-pays and deductible would be higher, but once again, preventive care would be free, total cost sharing still would be capped at $12,700, and the premium for a Bronze plan would be lower: KFF estimates that a family of five earning $100,00 would still receive a subsidy of $3,626 and their share of the premium would be just $7,253.

Why is the Government Subsidizing Households That Earn more than $125,000?

 If people choose to have four children, that certainly is their business. But why should I help pay for their healthcare?

The answer is two-fold:

First, people don’t necessarily choose to have 4 children –or more. Some couples are surprised (not to mention overwhelmed) when they disccover that they are having twins or triplets. 

Secondly as a society, we care about children. We don’t want any child to go without needed care.

But there also is a pragmatic reason for supporting large families. If those children don’t receive preventive care such as dental checks as well as  timely treatments when they are sick, down the road, we as a society will pay the price. The health of the population will play a major role in determining how productive we, as a nation, are.  

 

 

 

 

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Haggling for Health Care

 

Below, a guest post by Naomi Freundlich. Long-time readers will remember Naomi as the person who helped me write HealthBeat before we both left The Century Foundation in 2011. She now has her own excellent blog,  Reforming Health

In this piece, she describes what it is like to live with a high-deductible health plan and find yourself bargaining with doctors when trying to get care.

Let me add that beginning in January of 2014, comprehensive, affordable insurance will be available in the Exchanges– along with subsidies. This should mean that no one will have to sign up for a plan with a $4,000 deductible ($8,000 out of network) plus co-pays.

(Though I realize that some upper-middle-class families who earn just a little to much to qualify for a subsidy may have a hard time finding affordable insurance in the Exchanges. But so far, the pricing in states like California and Colorado is encouraging. I’ll write more about this as we find out more about how much insurance will cost in other state Exchanges) 

Nevertheless, next year some health care providers may try to charge patients more than the insurer will pay. This is called “balance billing.” In that case, patients will need to shop for physicians who accept the insurers’ reimbursement as payment in full.

My guess is that most heatlh care providers will discover that there just are not enough very wealthy patients out there (even in New York City), able and willing to pay more than either Medicare or an insurer will pay.  

by Naomi Freundlich

I’m not a big fan of bargaining and my half-hearted attempts to get a better price for a used car, garage sale find or contractor’s service have been mostly unsuccessful. There’s always that nagging feeling that the seller is laughing with delight once I’m gone, thinking, “I really pulled one over on that rube!”

And so it has come as somewhat of a shock to me that medical care has become the new garage sale, as far as haggling goes.

First we found out that hospitals have “chargemasters” that hold the list prices for everything from knee replacements to aspirin tablets, and that these prices differ wildly between hospitals; even those in the same city. We also know that insurers, both private and Medicaid and Medicare, never pay these list prices but instead bargain with hospitals to pay substantially discounted prices. The only ones not getting in on the discounts are the uninsured or under-insured people who get hit with the full list price of hospital care.

The same thing happens with doctor bills. If you’ve ever compared what your doctor bills your insurer with what your insurer actually agrees to pay, it’s clear that there is a lot of bargaining going on. If the list price of an office visit is $125, the insurer pays $60; for a $200 lab test, the insurer reimburses $70, and so on.

A recent New York Times article,  ”The 2.7 Trillion Medical Bill,”  focuses on the cost of colonoscopy to help explain how health care spending can be so much higher in the U.S. than other developed countries. In the article, patient bills for their colonoscopies ranged from a hefty $6, 385 to a whopping $19,438. Meanwhile, their insurers all negotiated the price down to about $3,500. As Elizabeth Rosenthal of the Times notes, ” this is still far more than the “few hundred dollars” that a routine colonoscopy costs in Austria or Italy.

Why do we have such price inflation here in the U.S.? Our for-profit health care industry has a lot to do with it, as does the maddeningly unregulated nature of the business.  Rosenthal writes: “A major factor behind the high costs is that the United States, unique among industrialized nations, does not generally regulate or intervene in medical pricing, aside from setting payment rates for Medicare and Medicaid, the government programs for older people and the poor.”

David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund tells the Times; “In the U.S., we like to consider health care a free market.” He adds, “But it is a very weird market, riddled with market failures.”

Now back to haggling. In the last year, my family—like many others in the nation—has been covered by a high-deductible insurance plan. Before our plan kicks in to pay for doctor bills, prescription drugs or diagnostic tests, we must meet a $4,000 in-network deductible. After that, we still have co-payments and also face an out-of-network deductible of $8,000. Now responsible for so much out-of-pocket health spending, I’m face to face with Blumenthal’s “weird market.” It’s a market where no one tells you the price of office visits beforehand, doctors have no idea how much an MRI they’ve just ordered is going to cost, and you end up paying dearly for not being an aggressive shopper.
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