Friday, January 6, 2017

Left in the lurch?

Do Republicans really want to leave in the lurch millions of Americans—Republicans, Democrats, independents, not to mention the vast number of Americans who don’t vote—with health care they cannot afford? Many of us are relatively lucky; we live in Massachusetts. From 2003 through 2006, Mitt Romney was our governor, and it was clear early on that Mitt had higher ambitions. To achieve his lofty goal of health care reform, he touted what became known as RomneyCare. But Romney’s signature accomplishment was not particularly appreciated beyond Massachusetts. In the 2008 primaries, he was defeated decisively by John McCain, the Vietnam war hero who, in the run-up to the GOP convention last summer, was attacked by Donald Trump. In case you have forgotten, Trump’s apparent line of reasoning: was: Real heroes don’t get captured.
But I digress. Thursday’s Boston Globe reported that President Obama, who leaves office in just two weeks, made the argument that Republicans would pay a stiff political toll for abandoning a health care system that, though imperfect, is essentially working as it was supposed to work. And to people without an ax to grind, it should be clear that the benefits of Obamacare far exceed its drawbacks. More Americans are insured than ever before; people with pre-existing conditions can buy insurance, and buy it at the same rates as those who don’t have pre-existing conditions; women can’t be charged more than men for insurance; and adult children can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, a very popular feature. For our family, Obamacare has provided a way to obtain insurance after we lost our coverage when my medical leave from work ended. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been much less expensive than buying insurance through COBRA insurance would have been. And we did get to keep all of our doctors, thanks to the plan we chose. Plus, thanks to the Obama administration, all pre-existing conditions are being covered.
Republicans often tout tax-free Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) as an alternative to Obamacare, but one has to be financially well off to benefit from them. If your family income is well over $100,000, maybe HSAs will work for you and your family. But that’s not the case for most of us. As the Globe noted, “Republicans have passed dozens upon dozens of symbolic measures” to repeal Obamacare, and Trump has made clear that he wants the law repealed. But then what comes in its place? Will we have to pay for major medical coverage and then get hit by large deductibles and unreasonable co-pays? The last time I visited my neuropsychologist, the bill—if I didn’t have health insurance (thanks to Obamacare)—would have been around $3,000. And this was a decidedly low-tech medical procedure, basically a few hours devoted to assorted quizzes and other relatively simple cognitive testing.
As Obama has made clear, the politics of health care favor the Democrats. It’s one thing to rant about Obamacare, as Trump has done repeatedly; it’s quite a different thing to face the resulting rage once constituents learn that they are losing their insurance and the alternative is way too expensive. It’s the kind of issue that could go a long way toward ensuring that Trump is a one-term president, once his erratic ways are made clear to a decisive majority of American voters. And it’s worth keeping in mind that Trump lost the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes. That’s not some statistical oddity: Clinton was by far the more popular candidate.
So, House Speaker Paul Ryan is incorrect when he says the election results mean the American people want to end Obamacare. In fact, a November poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 26 percent of Americans supported repealing Obamacare, according to the Washington Post. And when these 26 percent were told that repealing would mean the end of coverage for pre-existing coverage, 38 percent of them changed their mind.  And more (19 percent) of those still in favor of repeal changed their mind when told that over 20 million people would lose their insurance. These are figures that Republicans intent on repealing Obamacare should keep in mind.

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