Sunday, December 8, 2013
So, what is this thing called Obamacare?
That was the question posed by Maine Sen. Angus King in a floor speech in Washington last week that followed a 21-hour oration by Texan Ted Cruz. In about 21 minutes, King answered his own question, dispelling five years of smokescreen and horror stories that Cruz and the anti-Obamacare forces have been churning up to derail a much-needed reform to a broken part of our social fabric.
Anyone who thinks that they are no closer to understanding what the law will do for them -- or to them -- after hearing all the debate would be well-served by looking up King's speech and receiving a clear and concise summation of what's really going on.
As the new health insurance exchanges open for business this week, millions of uninsured Americans will find out that the law makes health care more available and affordable. And they will see that what's really driving Cruz and the others to keep this day from coming has been the fear that Americans will like Obamacare -- not fear that it will ruin our economy or the quality of our health care system.
In his speech last Wednesday, King explained what Obamacare is by first saying what it is not -- a government takeover of the health care industry. About half of the people in the country receive private health insurance through an employer, and they will not be affected. Another 22 percent are on Medicare and 7 percent on Medicaid; they will not see any change, either.
Only those Americans who are uninsured or who buy individual policies -- about 15 percent of the U.S. population -- will participate in the new system, which is a market built on the concept that group purchasing and competition will spread risk, create efficiencies and lower rates.
NO GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER
"This idea that somehow Obamacare is taking over the health care industry in this country is just nonsense," King said. "There is no place in America you can go and sign up for Obamacare. If you go onto an exchange ... you get insurance coverage from private insurance companies, just as we have done in this country (for decades)."
The effect of the law for more people, King said, would be the way it cleans up some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry.
There are no more lifetime caps on benefits. No one can be refused coverage because of a pre-existing condition -- which is why everyone is required to participate by buying insurance.
Otherwise, King said, people would wait to pay until they got sick, which would be like letting you sign up for fire insurance after the flames started licking your roof.
And in the many pages of the law called Obamacare, there are pilot programs designed to develop other ways of paying for health care, different from the inefficient and medically ineffective fee-for-service system through which most care is delivered in this country.
Payment reform could bring down costs while providing better care. That includes an emphasis on preventive care, which, King said, saved his own life when he developed skin cancer as a young man. Without health insurance, he said, he probably would not have visited the doctor who identified the disease in time.
About 50 million Americans are uninsured, and an estimated 25,000 of them die each year of conditions that could have been avoided with timely care. Another 700,000 people are bankrupted by medical bills every year, King said. This is the only country in the industrialized world where that could happen.
Starting Tuesday, uninsured Americans will be able to buy health insurance on the state exchanges, in many cases receiving federal subsidies making high-quality insurance coverage affordable to them for the first time. Opponents of the law have done everything they could to stop this day from coming, including taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court and losing.
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