Hit Pieces Don't tell the Health Reform Story

Nearly five months after the passage of the most significant health care and insurance consumer reforms in this country in more than half a century, the never-satisfied-with-anything left ideologues on the blogosphere are returning to the theme they used to try to kill health reform, before it was obvious it would pass, when they switched and pretended they were for it.

But the true color is out again.  Under the guise of holding the President and Democrats accountable, we have got the attitude of blaming the President and Democrats for not stopping all health care woes right away, which, apparently spells impending doom of and provides proof positive of the ineffectuality of the new health reform law.  So let's go through these ridiculous claims and see if facts don't debunk the heck out of them.

First, of course, we have the big complaint - California has allowed Anthem Blue Cross to move forward with a rate hike averaging 14% in the individual market, with the highest increases at 20%.  That is undoubtedly horrific.  But what is being left out of the story here?  The author of the health-care bashing piece tells you that Anthem originally asked for a 39% increase and made it look like as if asking for that increase is what allowed them half of what they originally bargained for.  Not so.  First of all, the rate hike was delayed for 6 months, thanks to the intervention of California regulators, saving California consumers $184 million this year, a fact "nyceve" fails to mention, even though I found it right in the same article she cited to make her case.

But you might ask, why are regulators even allowing the average 14% increase (with some policies going up 20%) in a tough economy like this?  The answer, sadly, is because they have no choice.  California law provides for its own Medical Loss Ratio requirement, 70%.
"We are not blessing these rates," said Tucker of the Insurance Department.

Regulators in California have no authority to block increases if insurance companies meet the 70% threshold, although state lawmakers are now considering legislation that would require insurers to get the Insurance Department's approval before raising premiums.
Regulators in California simply lack the authority to block increases if insurers meet a low 70% MLR requirement.  The new federal law requires the Medical Loss Ratio to increase to 80% in the individual and small group markets in beginning January 1, 2011 (and 85% in large group markets), and that would most certainly keep the rate increases much further in check, another fact conveniently avoided by the doomsday-pronouncers.  Look at what else is going on.  The California legislature is now swinging into action, thanks to the federal legislation, and considering giving its regulators the authority to block premium increases, period.

But you didn't hear this bit of good news from the naysayers.  Why not?  Because it interferes with their narrative of trying to blame all health care woes on the federal reform.

Then we have the outrageous claim that 24 million Californians are uninsured.  24 million!  And then we have the study this number supposedly comes from quoted 8.4 million Californians uninsured.  But hey, give her a break.  She was only off by a factor of 3.

Following that, an wild accusation that Democrats - Democrats - are stopping a COBRA assistance extension from being passed.  When, from the very article she hopes would be her evidence of this, we find out this:
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) want to pay for the subsidy by eliminating a tax break on annuity trust.

The senators have introdued a bill that would do this. But "prospects for extending the subsidy are rather slim," Families USA executive director Ron Pollack told USA Today.
Why are the propspects slim?  Well, because, if you haven't noticed, Republicans in the Senate filibuster everything.  But hey, pay no attention to that.  Don't believe your lying eyes.  It's the Democrats who are trying to keep unemployed workers from getting a subsidized COBRA plan.  Apparently, every act of Republican obstructionism is also a failure of the new health reform law.  Unbelievable.

But wait, there's more.  We can't get done dissing reform without blaming health reform for all the big employer health care cost increases that are coming in 2011.  A survey by a group called the National Business Group on Health surveyed 72 - you read that right 72, not 720, or 7,200 but 72 - big businesses to find out - ZOMG, these big employers expect to see an increase in health care cost by about 9% in 2011, and they plan to pass some of the costs onto their employees in the form of higher cost sharing.

Just for kicks, let's look at the National Business Group.  They are a business lobby group that likes to blame your health care costs on those horrible people who sue for medical malpractice, advocates for the wasteful "Medicare Advantage" program that has been bankrupting Medicare until the new federal law, opposes prescription drug re-importation on "safety" grounds (obviously, Canadians don't care about the safety of their prescription drugs that have already been approved by the FDA), and fitting for a business lobby, opposes mandatory paid sick leave for employees.  But hey, why shouldn't you place your trust in their scare tactics data?

So let's do that, and even look at the actual data they have presented.  Let's see what they are telling us beyond that their costs may increase and that they plan to squeeze their employees for greater share of those costs no matter what (how employers putting employees more and more on the line for health insurance expenses is the fault of health reform is beyond me, but what the heck).  Again, from the Hill article the naysayers would quote,
Seventy percent of large employers said they will eliminate lifetime dollar caps on overall benefits, according to the latest annual survey conducted by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), while 63 percent plan to increase premium rates in 2011, up from 57 percent this year. 
Wait, what?  70% of large businesses are going to eliminate lifetime caps on benefits, thanks to the new health care law, which has the same requirement in the individual market starting this year?  What a horrible law!

Also, while the health care doomsayers were busy quoting anti-health care business group statistics based on 72 companies to make a house-of-cards case for how horrible health reform is, in July, medical care prices headed down, albeit by only a tenth of a percent, for the first time in 35 years.

Then we come to the last point.  The exchanges don't open until 2014, and for a lot of people, it will be too late by then.  Fair point.  But it is also a fair point that it takes time to set up the exchanges, work through the regulatory overhaul, and get things right.  You can't implement the most significant changes to our health care system in generations by waving a magic wand or in a matter of minutes.  To bridge the gap, the community health centers, for which $10 billion was invested in the new law are being built now, and a federally subsidized high-risk pools for insurance for people with pre-existing conditions are coming into being.

I am not going to go over the ridiculous claim that health reform has nothing affordable about it.  The new MLR requirements, the excise tax on high cost insurance plans (applying to the plans, not individuals), the exchanges themselves that will provide pooled purchasing power for individuals and small businesses, community rating with restricted variance are all cost control measures.  If you are inclined to actually learn about the policy measures of affordability and cost control in the legislation going even beyond insurance, you can read my Beyond Insurance series on health cost measures addressed in the new law.

No, every problem everywhere isn't solved by this law.  No law, no reform ever does that.  But this is significant, major, progressive reform, and it deserves better than constant bashing from ideologues - whatever part of the political spectrum they are from.

I'm all for holding the President accountable.  But accountability is not synonymous with potshots, thank you very much.

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