Springfield News-Leader (Op-Ed): Blunt: Obamacare is a disaster
October 23, 2016
Three years ago, President Obama hailed the start of the Obamacare exchanges as a “life-changing” opportunity for Americans. Life has changed for Missouri families under this disaster of a law, but it is a far cry from what the president promised.
When President Obama rammed his health care law through Congress, without a single Republican vote, he repeatedly assured Americans they would be able to keep the plans and doctors they liked and could afford. By the end of 2013, at least 4.7 million Americans had their plans canceled because they did not meet the law’s mandatory requirements.
Since that time, several insurers have pulled out of the Obamacare exchanges in Missouri, significantly narrowing health plan options for individuals and families required to purchase insurance under the law. Last month was the deadline for insurance companies to indicate whether or not they’ll offer plans on the Obamacare exchanges, yet the Department of Health and Human Services has refused to release that information, leaving Missouri families unclear about what their options and rates will be next year.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 85 percent of Missouri counties will have only one Obamacare marketplace insurer when open enrollment begins on November 1. Based on that report and conversations I’ve had with my constituents, it could be even worse — leaving only 11 counties in Missouri (including the City of St. Louis) with more than one option of health insurers on the Obamacare exchanges. This is in stark contrast to the options Missourians had for this year, where every county had at least three insurers participating in the exchanges. In light of these drastic reductions, I have written to HHS Secretary Burwell demanding this information be released before the enrollment date so that Missourians who are losing their current health plans have the opportunity to secure coverage and plan for the future.
In a last ditch effort to stop insurance companies from fleeing the exchanges, the Obama administration has reportedly offered them a several billion dollar taxpayer-funded payout. This is in addition to the illegal payments the Obama administration is already making to insurance companies to prop up the exchanges, according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. Families work hard to earn a living, and they shouldn’t be on the hook for an Obamacare bailout — especially when they’re already paying a steep price for this law.
Despite the president’s promise to “bend the cost curve,” health insurers in our state are set to increase prices again next year, with some submitting rate hikes as high as a 34 percent increase. In my letter to Secretary Burwell, I have also asked that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services release information on the rate hikes they’ve approved so that families know what additional costs they’re facing because of this law. And these rate hikes are on top of the skyrocketing deductibles families have to meet before they’re even able to use their insurance.
This year, the average deductible for a middle-tier, or silver, health plan on the Obamacare exchange was over $3,000. The average deductible for a bronze plan topped $5,000. To make matters worse, those who aren’t able to afford the few options available to them on the Obamacare exchanges will face up to a $2,045 penalty next year.
Missourians shouldn’t be penalized for the president’s failure to live up to his promises. That’s why I’ve cosponsored two bills that would exempt individuals and families from the penalty if their county has either one insurance provider or none at all, or if their premiums have increased by more than 10 percent. These two bills would provide an important stopgap to protect families from the fallout of Obamacare, but there’s much more that should be done to ensure access to quality, affordable health care.
For example, I believe we should expand and reform high-risk pools to provide insurance options for people with pre-existing conditions.
I’ve also backed legislation that would allow Missourians to put more of their pre-tax dollars into portable health savings accounts and use those funds to pay their premiums. Expanding health savings accounts would make health care more affordable now and easier to plan for in the future.
I support efforts to allow small businesses to pool together to purchase coverage for their employees. Small businesses pay, on average, eight to 18 percent more for employee health plans than large employers. Allowing small businesses to pool together would help close the gap between what they pay and the rates that unions and large corporations are able to secure.
We can also bring down the cost of insurance by allowing families to purchase plans across state lines. Doing so would increase competition and enable families to shop for the plans that best fit their needs and budgets.
All of these solutions would go a long way toward creating a health care system that better addresses the needs of hardworking families, without imposing costly new mandates and tax hikes.
Whether it’s rising premiums, sky-high deductibles or fewer health care choices, Obamacare has proven unworkable and unaffordable. That’s why I’ve voted to repeal the law, and why I’ll continue working to advance real solutions that will ensure Missourians have access to quality health care they can afford.
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