Blame game: Obamacare becomes scapegoat for all that’s wrong with health care

About Joanne Kenen

Contributing editor to Politico Magazine and former health care editor-at-large, Politico, Commonwealth Fund journalist in residence and assistant lecturer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

obamaBlame it on Obamacare.

That’s what you hear, over and over again. Anything in the health care system that someone doesn’t like, it’s Obamacare.

Sam Baker of the National Journal took a look at some of the things people are blaming on Obamacare – high deductibles, narrow networks, employers cutting benefits – and reminds us that they were already part of the health care landscape, before the Affordable Care Act. He writes:

Welcome to the Obamacare era.

The healthy are subsidizing the sick. Insurance companies are tightening access to doctors. Plans with low premiums have high deductibles. Sometimes it rains, Nickelback is still a band, and people continue to die literally every day.

But just because something is happening and Obamacare exists doesn’t mean it’s happening because Obamacare exists – even in health care.

Plan cancellations? That you can in fact blame at least partly on the ACA’s new rules about essential benefits. (Even so, there was a lot of churn in that market and some plans were cancelled each year before the health law.)

So when you are reporting and someone blames something they don’t like in their health care on the health law – be alert. Not every one whose work hours are cut, or whose insurance costs rise, or whose doctor leaves a health plan, or who faces a higher deductible can blame it on the health law. These trends have existed for years, and sometimes they are more pronounced at other times. Don’t take every assertion at face value.

One D.C. restaurant, for instance, recently announced it was shutting down what it described as its “unprofitable” Friday buffet because of the health law. It said it would continue its Saturday buffet and improve its Sunday brunch. Maybe if the ACA gets blamed for the demise of the Friday buffet, it can get credit for the brunch.


3 thoughts on “Blame game: Obamacare becomes scapegoat for all that’s wrong with health care

  1. James Dudley Blair

    The new insurance policies with large deductibles and co-pays may lead to unintended consequences. We all agree that patients should have some skin in the game but it should not keep patients away from care in the early stages of a condition which could turn into a very costly intervention later. The same would well be true when costly bill from an emergency visit leads to avoidance.

  2. Thomas

    Here is the real problem. ObamaCare is not like a 39.6% marginal tax rate on all incomes above $250,000. It does not take money from everyone who is “well off” in order to fund health insurance subsidies for the poor.

    ObamaCare targets a very specific set of losers:

    1) Healthy people in the individual market who had plans that they liked and who will be forced to pay more for Exchange plans with fewer benefits so as to fund the subsidies.

    2) Young/healthy people who were not previously insured will be forced by the mandate to overpay for insurance so as to fund the subsidies.

    3) People on Medicare who will see their benefits reduced in order to fund the subsidies.

    4)People who need a “medical device” who will pay more for these devices due to the “medical device tax”

    In each of the above cases, ObamaCare creates a specific constituency that now has a reason to lobby against the law. This is really bad politics. Especially the economic attack on young people – a core support group of Obama.

    When you combine these bad polices with horrible underlying economics, a disaster may well occur. Democrats may be forced to allow people to keep the policies that they like. That will keep healthy people out of the Exchanges, driving up prices in the Exchanges. That will cause healthy people who did buy Exchange policies to cancel, which will in turn drive prices even higher.

    This could cause the insurance companies to abandon the program leaving those in need in the lurch.

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