Now that Tom Price is officially the nominee to be the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, a mild panic has broken out among Democrats and their media cohorts. Since Price has been one of the most vocal and cogent critics of the Affordable Care Act, Trump’s threat to dismantle it once in office just became more real. Democrats know that won’t be easy to do even with a determined White House and Republicans in Congress working together, but it’s important for them to act as if Obamacare was just given an eviction notice.
Today, as if on cue, NPR touted a new government report issued to reassure everyone that the government is making healthcare consumers in America happy.
The number of people who have trouble paying their medical bills has plummeted in the last five years as more people have gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and gotten jobs as the economy has improved.
A report from the National Center for Health Statistics released Wednesday shows that the number of people whose families are struggling to pay medical bills fell by 22 percent, or 13 million people, in the last five years.
And that’s good news, according to consumer and health policy advocates.
“The effect on families is profound,” says Lynn Quincy, director of the Healthcare Value Hub at the Consumers Union. “Health care costs are a top financial concern for families, far above other financial concerns.”
Quincy says the number one determinant of whether people can pay medical bills is whether they have insurance.
“The fact that this report shows it’s getting easier, it seems like we should lay a good part of this at the door of the ACA,” she says.
The decline in families worrying about medical bills corresponds with a huge increase in the number of people who have health insurance. In 2011, 46.3 million in the U.S. were uninsured. In June of this year, that figure had fallen to 28.4 million people.
Much of that increase is due to the Affordable Care Act, whose insurance exchanges were launched in 2013 for coverage starting in 2014.
This certainly was a surprise follow up to two months of Facebook posts by people showing notices from their insurance companies detailing the outrageous premium hikes they’ll be facing in 2017. It’s almost as if someone is being less than forthcoming here.
If, like me, you are skeptical of a government assessment of government’s functionality, then the report can be taken with a grain of salt.
The reality is that middle class Americans who are self-employed (“Present”) are being priced out of having any coverage at all. The NPR reporting here waxes on about the importance of just being covered, and the relief that comes with that. There is no exploration whatsoever of the impact on the self employed. On the contrary, the picture being painted is so rosy one can almost smell flowers blooming.
After going on and on detailing this health insurance coverage utopia that no one I know is aware of, the article got to its primary propaganda duties:
But Quincy says simply having coverage is the key.
“People speak loudest when they are faced with increasing deductibles and increase cost sharing,” she says. “But nothing determines the affordability of care than that binary equation: Do you have coverage or do you not?”
The report comes just as President-elect Donald Trump is naming officials to his health policy team who are determined to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Trump has pledged to repeal and replace the health law, and on Tuesday named Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, a vocal opponent of Obamacare, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
Repealing the law would hurt the people who are seeing relief from high medical bills as highlighted in this report, says Jay Angoff, a former Missouri insurance commissioner who helped implement the Affordable Care Act at HHS.
“There are millions of people who have coverage under Obamacare,” Angoff says. “What are they going to tell those guys?”
Maybe Angoff should revisit that question after next year.