It isn’t often that everyone in Washington, D.C., agrees about something. But when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, both parties in Congress as well as the president concur: there is a problem that needs fixing. The fact that a sizable number of citizens are losing their insurance as a direct consequence of the law has spawned three different versions of an “Obamacare fix.”
The bill originating in the House, Rep. Fred Upton’s (R-MI) aptly-named “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013,” passed on Friday by a vote of 261–157, drawing 39 Democrat votes. This plan allows insurance companies to continue offering any insurance plan that was available in Jan 2013. It does not, however, require that they keep offering these plans, thus allowing the companies to decide which plans are financially worthwhile to keep, and which are not. While the name of the plan and its description by House Republicans make it sound like a real problem solver, what the act essentially does is undermine the entire premise behind the ACA — making everyone buy the same kind of coverage at a uniform price. According to Jonathan Strong of National Review, House Speaker John Boehner told his GOP colleagues that Upton’s bill is part of his strategy of “targeted legislative strikes aimed at shattering the legislative coalition” behind Obamacare, ultimately leading to its repeal.
Another “fix” that is similar to Upton’s comes out of the Senate, by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The bill, called “Keeping the Affordable Care Act’s Promise Act,” is essentially the same as the Upton bill, with two changes. While Upton doesn’t require that the insurance companies continue offering the now cancelled plans, Landrieu does — essentially solving the entire problem of cancelled insurance. The bill also requires the insurance companies to send notices to purchasers explaining why the plan they are paying less for is “substandard”— with the hope that people will willingly drop out of those plans and buy “better” plans on the exchange — which would help keep those prices lower and affordable for all purchasers. But expecting people to drop a plan that is considerably cheaper and purchase a more expensive plan that has coverage they don’t need, before they need that coverage, is wishful thinking. Especially when you consider that the same person cannot be denied that coverage for having a preexisting condition, due to Obamacare.
The third fix is the one proposed by the president at a press conference this past Thursday, at which he announced that he had taken steps to solve this problem. Much like the Landrieu proposal, his plan allows companies to continue to offer current insurance plans — providing that state insurance commissioners sign off. While some states have agreed to allow this, most are taking a wait-and-see approach to the president’s proposal. Insurance companies, however, are furious. One insurance industry insider told BuzzFeed’s Evan McMorriss-Santoro: “This doesn’t change anything other than force insurers to be the political flak jackets for the administration. So now, when we don’t offer these policies, the White House can say it’s the insurers doing this and not being flexible.”
Three plans, from three different sources. All three are being sold to the American people as something that would fix the ACA’s problems, while none of them accomplish anything close to that. In a statement, AHIP [America’s Health Insurance Plans], which supports Obamacare, said that allowing cancelled plans to be revived is not practical. “Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace. If due to these changes, fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase in the marketplace and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”
For Republicans, the Upton bill is a way to completely gut the law, rendering it meaningless. For Congressional Democrats, the Landrieu bill is a way to manufacture political cover for colleagues with competitive races in 2014. (Landrieu herself is running for reelection.) And for the president, while it is commendable that he has accepted responsibility for all the problems associated with Obamacare since October 1, his plan doesn’t seem to be more than a way to shift political blame away from him and his administration and toward the insurance companies and state commissioners.
The problem of unaffordable health insurance is a real one — one that affects people on both sides of the political aisle. If all involved parties would stop playing politics and actually try to solve the problem, there would be a bipartisan solution in no time. But with Republicans salivating over the prospect of the president’s biggest legislative achievement going down in a ball of fire, and the president and Democrats unwilling to step far enough across the aisle to solve the problems in front of them, the fixes being proposed accomplish nothing more than advancing a political agenda. And the people hurt most are the ones whom they are supposedly trying to help.
It’s time to put politics aside, and do what is best for the American people.