After seven years of bombast and bluster, the Republicans have shown they have no idea how to repeal and replace Obamacare. The problem for Republicans is that they were trying to fix the wrong thing. The misnomer is that Obamacare is a government healthcare plan. It is not. Medicare and Medicaid are government health plans, but Obamacare is nothing more than a government sponsored effort to help an insurance company market policies to individuals who do not have access to healthcare; either from their employer or an existing government program. (About 10 percent of the population.) Obamacare also expanded an existing healthcare system — Medicaid – in order to provide coverage for millions of low income individuals who could not afford private policies, under any conditions.
To achieve its primary objective, Obamacare created an “exchange,” in the form of a government website for insurance companies to list and market their policies. It is much like Amazon where companies list the products they want to sell and consumers go online to buy them. Obamacare is not government insurance, but rather private insurance offered on a government website.
In order to list their policies on the “exchange” insurance companies had to agree to issue coverage to anyone who applies, regardless of their current health or pre-existing conditions. In addition, companies could not put a “cap” on the size of any claim and (unlike most private policies) they had to offer expanded coverage for preventive care, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
This was all good for the insured, but the insurance companies – that are after all in business to make a profit – blanched at these costly requirements. The insurance companies argued that such requirements were not “actuarially sound” and, in fact, guaranteed losses, regardless how much premium was charged.
In response, the government made two promises to the insurance companies: Everyone who did not have health coverage from another source would be “mandated” to buy a policy. This would “spread the risk” and create stability. (Not everyone who bought a policy would have a claim.) In addition, the government guaranteed to reimburse the companies for any losses they might incur by participating in Obamacare. (What company would not want to participate when the government did the marketing of the policies and guaranteed to cover the losses?) Beyond that, the government agreed to subsidize premiums for those who could not afford what the companies were charging.
So what was intended to be a simple process of connecting customer and company to provide individual health insurance via the Internet turned into a complicated, confusing and cumbersome plan that satisfied no one. While it is true that since the inception of Obamacare over 22 million previously uninsured Americans have been able to access health coverage, the vast majority of the newly covered resulted from the simple step of reducing the bar for lower income and the poor to be covered under Medicaid.
Those opposed to Obamacare argue that it is in a “death spiral” and that it will soon collapse. They point to escalating premiums and suggest the individual market is melting down because more and more companies are withdrawing from Obamacare. They are right about all this, but it is a man-made not structural problem. Ever since the Republicans took control of Congress and now the White House, they have been threatening to repeal the “individual mandate,” eliminate subsidies to individuals and de-fund the government’s promise to subsidize insurance company losses. Insurance companies need market stability to properly price the policies to make a profit, so no wonder that under these threats they are withdrawing from Obamacare. (How many companies would continue to offer their products on Amazon if Amazon had requirements that guaranteed losses with each sale?) Because of the uncertainty of the rules going forward, insurance companies have only two options: significantly increase existing premiums and refuse to issue new policies.
REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE
Obamacare was never the best way to assure that all Americans, regardless of their income or status in life, receive basic healthcare. And there is a better way to achieve this objective, without having to reinvent the wheel. It is a proven solution that is right in front of us.
Medicare and Medicaid have provided millions of Americans with efficient and effective healthcare for decades. If the objective is to assure all Americans – regardless of income or age – the right to basic healthcare coverage (as it should be) the simplest, most effective and least expensive way to do so is by merging Medicare and Medicaid into one program that could provide basic healthcare for all Americans from birth to death. This could not happen overnight, but it could be phased in over the next decade.
Critics argue that the cost of such an approach would be daunting, but by basing premiums, deductibles and co-pays on the basis of means and by diverting monies expended in the current patchwork health care system, the costs would not only be manageable, but less than what is being spent now. Besides, if we can spend $2.4 trillion on wasted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn’t we be willing to invest in the good health of all Americans? Such a program of universal healthcare would not be “government provided” care, but rather government payment for the services of private providers; just as Medicare and Medicaid do today.
It may surprise you that one well-known politician has long favored this approach to healthcare. In his book The America We Deserve he wrote, “We must have universal health care… Our objective should be to make reforms for the moment and longer term, to find an equivalent of the single-payer plan …” In multiple interviews and public comments over the years he has consistently endorsed the right of all Americans to receive basic health care coverage. In February of this year, he praised Australia’s health care system, saying to the Australian prime minister, “You have better health care than we do.” Of note is that Australia has a universal health care plan that is modeled after American Medicare and even called Medicare. Of course the individual referred to here is none other than Donald Trump.
Medicare and Medicaid provide access to efficient, effective healthcare for millions of Americans, so rather than constantly haggling over fixing failure, why not build on the proven success of established programs that could provide healthcare for all Americans?