Most of the Obamacare controversy involves only six percent of Americans
As of today, it’s been exactly a month since the launch of Obamacare, which has been plagued as much by misinformation peddled by its opponents as by computer problems.
In an effort to clarify matters, Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker is relying on input from Jonathan Gruber, an M.I.T. economist and an architect of both Mitt Romney’s health-care plan in Massachusetts and Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Gruber was frank about the issue that has caused the President so much political pain this week: the oft-repeated promise that any American who liked his health-insurance plan could keep it. It turns out than many people—probably millions—will not be able to keep the exact plans they currently have.
But the details and context are important.
Gruber broke down the A.C.A. “winners” and “losers” for me. [See the chart above.] About eighty per cent of Americans are more or less left alone by the health-care act—largely people who have health insurance through their employers. About fourteen per cent of Americans are clear winners: they are currently uninsured and will have access to an affordable insurance policy under the A.C.A.
But much of the current controversy involves the six per cent of Americans who buy their own health care on the individual market, which the A.C.A. has dramatically reformed. Gruber argued that half of these people (three per cent of all Americans) will have little change to their polices. “They have to buy new plans, but they will be pretty similar to what they had before,” he said. “It will essentially be relabeling.”
The other half, however, also three per cent of the population, will have to buy a new product that complies with the A.C.A.’s more stringent requirements for individual plans. A significant portion of these roughly nine million Americans will be forced to buy a new insurance policy with higher premiums than they currently pay. The primary reason for the increased cost is that the A.C.A. bans any plan that would require a people who get sick to pay medical fees greater than six thousand dollars per year. In other words, this was a deliberate policy decision that the White House and Congress made to raise the quality—and thus the premiums—of insurance policies at the bottom end of the individual market.
“We’ve decided as a society that we don’t want people to have insurance plans that expose them to more than six thousand dollars in out-of-pocket expenses,” Gruber said. Obama obviously should have known that his blanket statement about “keeping what you have” could not apply to this class of policyholders.
Gruber summarized his stats: ninety-seven per cent of Americans are either left alone or are clear winners, while three per cent are arguably losers. “We have to as a society be able to accept that,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, that’s a shame, but no law in the history of America makes everyone better off.”