Saturday, March 15, 2014

Editorial: GOP Needs ACA Backlash

The Big Lies Republicans tell about “Obamacare” may have helped Republicans hold onto Florida’s 13th Congressional District in a special election March 11 as right wingers tested their messages claiming the Affordable Care Act threatened cuts in Medicare.

In the race to succeed the late GOP Rep. Bill Young in Pinellas County, Republicans filled the airways with ads that linked Democrat Alex Sink, the former state chief financial officer, to the health reform law, which she never voted on but tepidly supported and said she would try to fix. David Jolly, a Republican lobbyist, beat Sink by 48.4 to 46.6 percent. Sink led in the early vote, 48.5 to 46.2 but Jolly overtook her in the election-day vote. Democrats had high hopes in a district President Obama won with 50.7% in 2012, but Sink was a lousy candidate from outside the district who embraced austerity and was open to cuts in Social Security and Medicare that Republicans originally proposed — and she still made it a close race. Constant references to the “Obamacare mess” helped carry the day for Jolly in a low turnout election. Democrats will get another shot at the seat in the fall, when increased turnout due to what likely willl be a heated governor’s race could give the Democratic congressional candidate a better chance. And it would help if the candidate ran as a Democrat.

Right wingers have been trying to erode support for the Affordable Care Act by lying about it for the past four years. In a recent episode, the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity PAC ran ads in Michigan claiming that Democratic US Rep. Gary Peters’ vote for Obamacare made Julie Boonstra, a 49-year-old cancer patient from Dexter, Mich., change her insurance plan and make her medication so “unaffordable” that she could die. Peters is running for the US Senate this year against Republican Terri Lynn Land.

The Detroit News checked the ad’s claims and found that the Blue Cross Premier Gold plan, which Boonstra was complaining about, will save her at least $1,200 compared with her former insurance plan she preferred that was ended because it didn’t meet the ACA’s coverage requirements. When advised of the details of her new plan, Boonstra said that the idea that it would be cheaper “can’t be true. ... I personally do not believe that.”

Kevin Drum of noted of Boomstra, “it sure seems as if she’s been bamboozled by a bunch of fanatic Obamacare haters who have caused her a ton of pain and misery. Boonstra had some genuine problems with the rollout of the exchanges, just as many people did, but once that finally got straightened out, she ended up with coverage that was both better and less expensive than her previous plan. There’s no reason for her to be so anxious about her continued care.

“But she never really learned that. For purely venal political reasons, AFP found itself a woman fighting cancer and proceeded to stoke her fears of her new health coverage in order to get a TV ad made. A TV ad. These are people who, if there’s any justice, should not be sleeping easily at night. They are swine.”

But more people are learning the truth about the Affordable Care Act, as 942,000 people enrolled in private health insurance plans via the ACA’s health insurance exchanges in February, the US Department of Health and Human Services reported. So far more than 4.2 million people have gotten health coverage through the exchanges. Federal officials hope to get more than six million enrolled by the March 31 deadline to get insurance coverage (see or call 1-800-318-2596).

An additional 4.4 million working poor have been found eligible for expanded Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program through federal marketplaces. And 260 million Americans who already had insurance coverage now have new standards and safeguards for their insurance, including free preventative care, an end to lifetime limits on healthcare costs and insurance companies no longer can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The threat of losing insurance has kept millions of Americans tethered to dead-end jobs, particularly if they or their family members had chronic health problems. They are now able to retire and/or start their own business and still find affordable insurance.

Meanwhile, Republican “leaders” in 25 states are still preventing more than five million working poor Americans from getting Medicaid through the federally funded expansion. Health experts estimate that Medicaid shutout could cause 17,000 unnecessary deaths. (Subsidies are available for people making from 100% to 400% of the federal poverty rate to buy private insurance through the state exchanges, but since the law did not anticipate that states would be so mean-spirited as to pass up federal assistance that would pay nearly the entire cost of providing Medicaid for those living in poverty, the law did not provide subsidies for the working poor to buy insurance.)

Now that people are getting a better look at what the law really does, support appears to be increasing. A CNN poll conducted nationwide March 7-9 and released March 11, found that 39% of Americans support the health care law, up from 35% in December, while 57% said they opposed the measure, down five points from December. But those “opponents” included 12% who said they opposed the law because it’s not liberal enough — they want single payer.

Joan McCarter of noted that most of the support was gained among college-educated people and those making $50,000, a good demographic to have on your side politically. Will that make Republicans rethink their approach on Obamacare? Probably not, but it does make life more complicated for them. It also shows that it’s smart politics for Democrats to keep campaigning on the law, but to talk about how they want to make it even better.

Kevin Drum also noted that ever since the law passed in 2010, about 40% of the country has opposed it, while more than 50% have either supported it or said they wanted it to go further. “This goes a long way toward explaining the supposedly mysterious result that lots of people oppose Obamacare but few want to repeal it,” Drum wrote.

While the corporate news media has focused on the “disastrous” Obamacare rollout in October which prevented many people from signing up during the first month of its operation, less attention has been paid to the poor customer service offered by the insurance companies that were the backbone of the old system and expect to profit from the new millions of customers.

The editor recently spent a few hours on the phone with customer representatives of a major insurance company, trying to straighten out a billing problem on a policy that is independent of the healthcare exchange. In January, I got a notice that the payment was not being automatically withdrawn from my checking account, as it was supposed to be. So after waiting on hold for 40 minutes I finally talked to a rep who “fixed” the automatic payment — or so I thought. Then in early March I was informed that my coverage would be terminated for lack of payment. This time I spent more than an hour on hold before I talked to a rep, who told me it looked like my coverage was intact, but if I wanted, I could talk to a billing specialist. After another 20 minutes on hold, I was connected with someone in the billing department, who discovered that my payments were being automatically withdrawn from my checking account, as my credit union statement indicated, but those payments were being credited to someone else. A week later the insurance company is still trying to straighten it out, and despite assurances that my coverage is intact I fear there is a 50-50 chance that if I show up at a doctor’s office with my insurance card, I’ll be told the insurance company says they’ve never heard of me. I hope to get it squared away by March 31.

So don’t tell me the federal government does a worse job providing insurance than insurance companies do. And Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to attack Republican efforts to prevent people from getting health care in this midterm election year. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2014
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Selections from the April 1, 2014 issue