A Michigan woman who argued in a conservative interest group’s television ad that her new coverage under the Affordable Care Act is “unaffordable” will actually save more than $1,000 this year, according to fact checkers for two newspapers who examined the Americans for Prosperity commercial. When she heard the details of her new plan, the woman, a cancer patient named Julie Boonstra, said that “can’t be true.”
“Bette in Spokane,” whose loss of her former catastrophic policy was cited by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in January, had somewhat less expensive options than the one that would cost an additional $700 a month — which would still have carried higher premiums but also offered lower deductibles — but didn’t select either a lower cost plan offered by her company or explore her choices via the online exchange.
“I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all,” she told her local paper, the Spokesman-Review, adding that she and her husband would instead go without. Well, I guess she showed them.
As we rapidly approach the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance for 2014 — and avoid the penalty for not carrying insurance — stories like these that intertwine the personal and political are common.
On the political front, of course, a tremendous amount is at stake.
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats who passed the Affordable Care Act along strict party lines need the sign-up numbers to climb as high as possible. That’s not just to show that the new law works, but to help make it work, because the model demands an influx of new paying customers, particularly younger, healthier people whose premiums will subsidize costs for older, more expensive folks. Hence we have outreach efforts like Obama’s recent appearance on comic Zach Galifianakis’ satirical Web-based talk show, an amusing turn that went viral and seemed to stoke at least interest among the targeted audience. Still, in Louisiana, just 9.3 percent of eligible residents had signed up through February.
Republicans in Congress and conservatives hoping to capitalize on the issue to flip control of the U.S. Senate — including here in Louisiana, where AFP has run ads attacking Mary’s Landrieu’s pro-ACA vote, using scripted testimonials from actors — want the numbers to stay low, to prove that the health care law simply doesn’t work.
The scary part is that all the political gamesmanship may well be preventing people from making the best choices under the circumstances, whether they favor the ACA or not.
None of this is to argue that the law hasn’t suffered all sorts of problems: The botched website and the president’s false claim that people who like their coverage can keep it are unforgivable. There’s actually a case to be made for why certain plans have been deemed substandard, but the administration did a terrible job making it.
But face it. The law wouldn’t have passed if it didn’t address major shortcomings in affordability and access. Until now, people have been trapped in dead-end jobs or unable to start businesses for fear that they’d lose health care. Young people just out of school were thrown off their family plans even if they had yet to find a job with benefits, a common plight in this economy. Those with pre-existing conditions faced exorbitant costs or got frozen out of the private market entirely. These problems were real, and they were serious.
It would be great if the two parties could get together and try to fix the ACA’s glitches — if, say, Landrieu and her main Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, could work their respective chambers and parties to come up with a fix, the way they ultimately did with flood insurance. Obviously, there’s no sign of anything like that brewing.
So it’s up to individuals to decide how to play this, whether they want to ignore the benefits now available to them, or tap into them.
It should be obvious by now where I come down. I’ve yet to hear a good argument for going uninsured, even if you’re young and healthy and feel invincible (news flash: you’re not). Nor have I heard a compelling case for having more uninsured residents, not fewer. That’s more people who might not have treatable conditions diagnosed early, more who seek expensive care in emergency rooms, more who shift their costs onto hospitals and paying customers.
For those still deciding this week, the website is better, and there’s help available if you’re still having trouble. There are also subsidies for many — although, sadly, not for people left in the gap by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid.
No matter where you come down on the ACA or Obama, this is one decision where the personal and political really shouldn’t mix.