During the last presidential debate, Hillary Clinton denounced Donald Trump for pledging to repeal the “Affordable Care Act” and take our health care system back to “the way it used to be.” The underlying assumption of this accusation is, of course, that the system works better now than before it was “reformed.” Many accept that as a given, but think about it. Before Obamacare was foisted upon us by Mrs. Clinton’s fellow Democrats, do you remember reading headlines announcing that more than a million people were about to lose their health insurance plans in one fell swoop? Neither do I.
Yet if you paid any attention to the news over the weekend you probably noticed a Bloomberg story titled: “More Than 1 Million to Lose Obamacare Plans as Insurers Quit.” Its basic thrust is that insurance companies have been fleeing federal and state exchanges in droves because the law’s perverse incentives make further participation financially unsustainable. Thus, as it is phrased in the article, “At least 1.4 million people in 32 states will lose the Obamacare plan they have now, according to state officials.” This is the system Hillary pledges to “defend and expand” on her campaign website.
And, as with all stories about Obamacare, the further you read the uglier it gets. The Bloomberg story continues: “For the people losing plans, there are fewer and fewer choices… for at least 19 percent of the people in Obamacare’s individual market next year there will be only one insurer to choose from.” These plans will, of course, cost enrollees far more than the plans they are about to lose. Even the conservative estimates recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation predicted that the average 2017 rate hike will double this year’s increases. Some states will see increases exceeding 50 percent.
In Minnesota, for example, rates will spike 50 to 67 percent. This increase was so dramatic that the state’s Democrat governor, Mark Dayton, lamented, “The reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for increasing numbers of people.” And Dayton is by no means the highest profile Democrat to point out that Obamacare is dysfunctional. Hillary must have been particularly delighted to hear her husband describe it thus: “You’ve got this crazy system where… people are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, and wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.”
When asked about the former president’s embarrassing comments, Mrs. Clinton recited a canned list of benefits Obamacare has ostensibly provided to an ungrateful electorate. Predictably, she began with the dispensation most commonly lauded by the law’s apologists: “Number one, insurance companies can’t deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition.” But, as Michael Cannon explains it in Time, “Obamacare itself is denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.” How can this be true when it is supposedly illegal? Easy. It’s causing insurers to leave the individual health insurance market.
Cannon provides the example of Pinal County, Arizona. “Obamacare made covering everybody in the exchange prohibitively expensive, so insurers stopped covering anybody.” In other words, if you were a resident of Pinal County with an individual health plan that paid for an expensive medical condition yet didn’t contain all of the “minimum essential benefits” mandated by Obamacare, your insurer was prohibited from renewing that policy. And because no insurer can absorb the losses associated with participating in your exchange, you have been effectively denied coverage for your pre-existing condition.
Admittedly, it isn’t this bad in most of the country — yet. But there are five states whose Obamacare exchanges offer precisely one choice: Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming. The lack of competition in these states will inevitably produce rate increases that dwarf the hike decried by Minnesota’s governor. In Oklahoma it has already happened. The average increase for the hapless enrollees of that state will be 76 percent. Alabama enrollees will be hit with a mere 36 percent increase. The final rates aren’t in for the other three states on the single-insurer list, but they will make news.
In addition to these states, there will be several others that are likely to have significant numbers of single-insurer counties next year. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports, “States with significantly more single-insurer counties in 2017 will likely include Arizona (87% of counties in 2017, compared to none in 2016), Mississippi (80% vs. 0%), Missouri (85% vs. 2%), Florida (73% vs. 0%), North Carolina (90% vs. 23%), and Tennessee (60% vs. 0%).” The only county that appears likely to remain with no insurer at all is Pinal County, Arizona, the travails of which are discussed above.
All of which means that more than a million Americans are going to lose their health plans — again. The only silver lining to this dark cloud is that, unlike the last time the enrollees took it in the shorts, they won’t be losing coverage they like. As I wrote in this space last May, most Obamacare enrollees hate their plans. In 2017, they will be stuck with more expensive plans they like even less. In a normal election year, people vote their pocketbooks. This issue provides more than a million reasons to reject Obamacare and delete Clinton from history with the same alacrity with which she deleted her emails.
This cycle is anything but normal. But wouldn’t it be pleasant to go back to “the way it used to be,” when the vast majority of Americans were satisfied with our health care system and we at least had a right to buy coverage that we had chosen ourselves?