This Is Not “Health-Care Reform”

I’ve spent the past four weeks recovering from a concussion I sustained in an auto accident (hit by a drunk driver while returning home from a gig). That meant limiting my screen time, avoiding too much mental activity, and just generally withdrawing a bit from the frenetic pace of daily life. The two-week-long dull headache and slight nausea weren’t fun, but it did mean I was able to remain blissfully unaware of the political climate for about a month, and frankly, it was a relief. But now, I’m back. Today is actually the first time since the accident that I am attempting to write, an activity that involves ALL of the things I was told to avoid during recovery — screen time, focused mental activity, and analytical information processing.

As I venture forth from my seclusion, I find myself rather despondent. Why? Health-care “reform” is here. I’ve written about Obamacare a number of times, and I am certainly not going to suggest that the law was perfect, or that it didn’t need some adjustments. It most certainly did. But the law being presented to us now by the GOP should scare every single one of us.

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The law has been called “Obamacare Lite” by a number of people, and I couldn’t agree more. Most of those calling it that wish the GOP would go FURTHER in dismantling health-care reform, while I wish we might go in the other direction and further support a national health-care program. But the term fits — because it takes some portions of Obamacare, but really rolls back a lot of the protections that have helped millions of Americans afford health care. Among the reforms introduced in Obamacare were the prohibition against charging higher premiums or denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, extending the age under which young adults may remain on their parents’ health plan, a massive expansion in Medicaid coverage, and subsidies to help more people AFFORD health care. Along with all of this, Obamacare had the “individual mandate” — that is, the requirement that all Americans HAVE health-care coverage or pay a penalty. The GOP railed against this for years, but the fact is GOP health-care proposals put forth in years past had the exact same idea.

This new law does pay some lip service to a few of those reforms. It claims to keep the pre-existing condition protection (but there’s a big old loophole — more on that momentarily), and it continues to allow people to remain on their parents’ health-care plans until the age of 26. It claims to offer financial support, but instead of subsidizing health-care plans directly, it does so with a “tax credit,” which not only forces people to wait until the end of the year to RECOVER spent money (something impossible for those living paycheck to paycheck), but lowers the amount of money given substantially for many people. The Medicaid expansion, long a target of GOP lawmakers, is on the chopping block, and that means millions of poor Americans will lose health-care coverage — as has been reported by countless health organizations AND the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which may be the single most NON-partisan office in all of Washington, DC.

Now, let’s get back to that “pre-existing condition protection” — certainly an important topic for all of us living with chronic diseases such as diabetes. There are several issues looming that make this “protection” laughable. The first is that the new bill WILL allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums if you have a lapse in coverage lasting 63 days or more. This might sound like a good idea — “Hey, if you drop the ball, you have to pay the cost,” right? But what happens when a family of four living on one income LOSES that income? What happens when that family has to choose between rent, food, and insurance? They will drop insurance — not because they’re “lazy” or “unorganized,” but because food is more important!! And what happens when said family DOES regain financial footing? Yep, higher premiums for the next year! What does that mean? Yep, no insurance AGAIN!! And when they go back the following year? Yep, higher premiums…are you sensing a pattern here? It’s a cruel, vicious cycle that millions of poor families will undoubtedly face.

But that’s not the only issue here. There are two other policy decisions that, quite frankly, make this whole bill an absolute joke. The first is that the individual mandate is GONE — meaning insurance companies will no longer have any kind of guarantee of gaining younger, healthier consumers to offset the cost of us chronically ill folks. To offset this, and to make insurance more “consumer-choice friendly,” the GOP bill takes away a lot of the mandates insurance companies faced under Obamacare. Insurance plans won’t be stuck having to offer comprehensive coverage — instead, they can offer a range of plans, from hospital-only, to full coverage with strong prescription plans. That sounds great, right? It’s not. It means those young, healthy folks will enroll in the minimal plans, and pay very low premiums. But it means those plans with MORE coverage will likely see skyrocketing premiums — which, technically, won’t be skyrocketing because of pre-existing conditions, so we’re still “protected,” but anyone WITH a pre-existing condition will NEED those comprehensive plans. So it becomes nothing but a backdoor way to charge those of us with pre-existing conditions much higher premiums, just like they did in the old days.

Look, Obamacare had problems. It needed some reforms. I’ve always been an advocate of a single-payer system, and I always will be. Call me Socialist; I don’t care — not EVERYTHING works best in a “free-market” framework. But unless you’re a One Percenter, this new bill is not the answer. Most of us WILL be worse off under this plan. Those in the Rust Belt who helped vote IN this Congress will be worse off. Those of us who make our livings in the arts will be worse off. Teachers will be worse off. Middle America will be worse off. This isn’t “health-care reform” — it’s simply health-care dismantling.

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