Obamacare: Entering a ‘death spiral’?
“Six years after it was passed into law, Obamacare suffered one of its heaviest blows” last week, said David Dayen in NewRepublic.com. Health-care giant Aetna announced that it’s pulling out of all but four of the state exchanges through which millions of Americans now buy their health insurance. Insurers Humana and UnitedHealth Groups made similar announcements earlier this year, meaning that in 2017, customers on about one-fourth of the exchanges will have just one or two plans to choose from. Some liberals say Aetna is acting out of spite, said Peter Suderman in Reason.com, retaliating for the Justice Department’s recent refusal to approve Aetna’s merger with Humana. But even if that’s true, the fact remains that Aetna and other big insurers have been losing billions each year in the Obamacare exchanges, which never attracted the millions of young, healthy customers needed to make the system fiscally viable. The Affordable Care Act may survive this “near-death experience,” but right now it “looks like one sick patient.”
“All of this was utterly predictable,” said David Catron in Spectator.org—“in fact it was predicted.” During the ACA’s long, contentious passage through Congress, we conservatives repeatedly warned that its new restrictions on insurers would lead to higher premiums, which only older, sicker customers would be willing to pay. Fewer customers would mean less revenue for the insurers, who would then have to raise premiums even higher—triggering the very “death spiral” that appears to have begun. These warnings were ignored, said The Wall Street Journalin an editorial. The president and Democrats were too busy ramming this ill-conceived, Rube Goldberg health-care system through Congress without a single Republican vote. They must now be “held accountable for the collapse of their ideas.”
Obamacare has already lowered its ambitions, said Margot Sanger-Katz in NYTimes.com. When the program was created, Democrats hoped the exchanges would offer plans like those provided by employers, luring middle-class Americans into signing up. But to keep costs low and competitive, insurers on the exchanges are offering very narrow networks of doctors and hospitals, with few specialists and high deductibles. That means “a typical Obamacare plan looks more like Medicaid” than private insurance. The long-term uninsured don’t mind, but for customers accustomed to choosing their own doctors, it’s a turnoff. Obamacare does have “real problems,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times, but nothing “that couldn’t be fairly easily fixed with a bit of bipartisan cooperation.” Raising subsidies, for instance, would entice more customers onto the exchanges. So would raising the penalties for going without insurance. Republicans, however, want the program to fail. Perhaps it’s time for Democrats to bring back “the public option,” which was dropped during the Obamacare negotiations to appease purple-state Democrats and insurers. If insurers are going to abandon the exchanges anyway, “why not let the government step in?”
That possibility is just one of the reasons Republicans shouldn’t be gloating over Obamacare’s struggles, said Jim Newell in Slate.com. Another is that “they offer no replacement plan that comes anywhere close” to the 20 million people who’ve gained coverage through Obamacare, including its Medicaid expansion provision. After this presidential election, Republicans need to stop seizing on every minor setback to declare Obamacare doomed. Meanwhile, Democrats have to “stop pretending everything’s fine” and offer some very concrete fixes—or watch their “signature legislative achievement” fall apart.
Only in America
■ TSA agents in Phoenix refused to let a 9-year-old and his parents board a plane because they suspected his pacemaker was a terrorist bomb implanted in his chest. The agents claimed to have foiled similar plots using kids in the past, and insisted on taking the boy to a private room for a prolonged search. “It was very scary,” said Chille Bergstrom, who will soon undergo his 16th open-heart surgery. “I thought it was my fault.”
■ A New Mexico elementary school principal instructed teachers never to call students “boys and girls,” under the school’s new Gender Identity Procedural Directive. Principal Judith Touloumis told teachers to avoid “binary” gender words and use neutral terms like “students.” The local school board later apologized, saying Touloumis had misunderstood the directive.
Good week for:
Head starts, after it was revealed that Weston Imer, 12, was leading the get-out-the-vote effort at Donald Trump’s campaign office in Jefferson County, Colo. “Watch for me [in] 2040,” Imer said.
House calls, after a new luxury Los Angeles apartment complex— where units rent for up to $25,000 a month—offered residents such perks as on-site Botox treatments. Wealthy people “just don’t want to take care of the hassles that everyday life brings,” the developer explained.
Perseverance, after 80-year-old Wanda Witter, a homeless woman, won her 16-year-long battle to claim back Social Security payments and received a lump sum of $99,999. “They kept thinking I was crazy,” Witter said.
Bad week for:
Family bonding, after a 15-year-old Toronto girl called 911 to report that her parents had “forced her” to go on vacation to a rural cabin that she didn’t like. “This appeared to be a case of a teenager being a teenager,” said a police spokesman.
Payment plans, after the British government sent a pensioner a bill for 1 penny, with the option of paying it in installments. “It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Tim Quaife, 68. “It has cost them 53 pence to send the letter.”
Satire, after New York City officials removed an unflattering, life-size statue of a naked Donald Trump that activists stationed in Union Square Park. “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks,” said a department spokesperson, “no matter how small.”
Boring but important
Grad students given right to unionize
Graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants at private universities are school employees with a full right to join unions, the National Labor Relations Board ruled this week. The case was brought by a group of teaching assistants at Columbia University, and its outcome reverses a 2004 ruling by the board that held graduate students “have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.” It paves the way for tens of thousands of TAs to join the nation’s labor movement and engage in collective bargaining over stipend payments, health insurance, and other benefits. Grad students at Duke and Northwestern said they planned to unionize immediately.