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Take two aspirin — and blame everything on Obamacare

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I don’t know of any doctor who would actually give a patient the advice in the headline above, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

It probably wouldn’t surprise Sam Baker either, as we see HERE:

Welcome to the Obamacare era.

The healthy are subsidizing the sick. Insurance companies are tightening access to doctors. Plans with low premiums have high deductibles. Sometimes it rains, Nickelback is still a band, and people continue to die literally every day.

But just because something is happening and Obamacare exists doesn’t mean it’s happening because Obamacare exists—even in health care.

Don’t tell that to the law’s critics: The Affordable Care Act has become the go-to scapegoat for just about everything people don’t like about health care, if not in the economy overall. The law is being blamed for trends, economic incentives, and basic realities that it did not create and that were part of the health care system long before President Obama was even elected.

Consider the complaint du jour about the Affordable Care Act: You might not be able to keep your doctor. There’s some truth to this charge, because many plans sold through the law’s insurance exchanges have set relatively narrow networks of doctors and other providers. There’s no question that narrow networks are common in Obamacare exchange plans—but they were common before, too.

“Narrow networks were happening already. There has been kind of a resurgent interest in narrow networks,” Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman said.

Narrow networks are one of the tools insurers use to keep premiums low. Doctors want to be paid as much as possible, while insurers want to keep their costs down so they can charge a lower premium and attract more healthy customers. To get there, insurers will sometimes exclude expensive providers, unless those doctors are so popular that people are willing to pay more for a plan that includes them…

By creating new marketplaces where millions of people are suddenly shopping for insurance—and by cutting off other levers insurers could use in the past (like refusing to cover sick people)—Obamacare has “accelerated” the shift to narrower networks, Altman said. But he said the pendulum already seemed to be swinging in that direction.

Insurers tried to narrow their provider networks in the ’90s using HMOs, and consumers hated the plans so much that insurers ultimately backed away. That could happen again this time—the Affordable Care Act doesn’t require narrow networks and it doesn’t dictate how much insurers pay doctors…

“No one has ever heard of an HMO? Networks have been around forever,” said Aaron Carroll, director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at Indiana University. “The idea of networks as somehow new or government-created is strange…. I understand why people don’t like it. They never have. But it’s not the fault of the Affordable Care Act. It’s the fault of trying to keep spending to a minimum.”

A similar dynamic is playing out with Obamacare’s next big scare: rising deductibles. Republicans have trumpeted reports about high deductibles to argue that the plans aren’t actually affordable. And many plans sold through the exchanges do have high deductibles—often right up to the maximum allowed by law.

But deductibles were already on the rise, pre-Obamacare…

Shifting costs to individuals is another tool to keep costs and premiums low, and another area where the law has “accelerated” an existing trend but not caused it, Altman said.

The Affordable Care Act will result in a surge in the number of people with high-deductible plans, as well as in the number of plans with narrow networks—because that’s where the market has pushed private insurance, and cheap plans in particular.

And, for what it’s worth, high-deductible plans have long been a tenet of conservatives’ health care plans. They’ve called for more “skin in the game,” meaning more out-of-pocket spending and looser benefit mandates…

Employer plans aren’t subject to some of the law’s most expensive requirements—they don’t have to cover “essential” benefits, for example, partially because most of them already do. But that hasn’t stopped private-sector employers from citing the health care law when they have cut health benefits. UPS, for example, said the law was part of the reason it would not offer its health plan to employees’ spouses who had their own offer of employer-based coverage.

Health care experts aren’t so sure the law is responsible.

On average, employers’ health care costs are growing at near-record lows—about 4 percent per year, according to Kaiser’s annual survey of employer plans. That’s partially because health care costs have slowed overall, but also because employers have gradually taken steps like UPS’—shifting more costs to employees, adding or increasing deductibles, and scaling back benefits…

“Particularly harmed are young people trying to climb the economic ladder…. Obamacare depends on young, healthy people being forced to pay higher premiums in order to subsidize the premiums of older, less healthy people,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a recent op-ed.

Every private health care plan depends on healthy people subsidizing unhealthy people. Safe drivers subsidize bad drivers, homes that don’t burn down subsidize those that do, and people who don’t file health care claims subsidize those who file a lot of them.

“That is every risk pool in the world—that’s how health insurance works,” Carroll said….

But there are still plenty of concrete trade-offs that did really start with the Affordable Care Act.

It truly did force insurance companies to cancel millions of health care plans, for example. As much as the White House tried to paint that as insurers’ business decision, the law creates new standards for insurance plans and makes a concerted effort to push people into those plans. Whether those standards are a good or bad thing for consumers is a matter of opinion, but there’s no question the Affordable Care Act made it impossible for millions of people to stay on the plans they had.

That might have been a smaller political problem if Obama hadn’t promised that people could keep their plans. And even with trends the law didn’t cause, his sales pitches could still come back to bite him. Obama also promised that you could keep your doctor—something he couldn’t guarantee with or without Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act makes a complicated series of trade-offs to make health care more accessible, and some people will get a worse deal as a result. But many trade-offs that seem like Obamacare are really just the health care system.

“Obamacare gets the blame for much of the bad stuff happening anyway in the health care system, and also little of the credit for the good things it’s doing,” Altman said.

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3 Comments

  1. Shawn Robinson

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2013/dec/12/lie-year-if-you-like-your-health-care-plan-keep-it/
    The liberals need to hold Obama accountable. It’s not like the Republicans are moral truth-tellers, but if the liberals want to be taken seriously by people on the fence they should keep their leaders accountable to their promises.
    The right will probably run this up the flag pole come election time — although they’ve taken home the lie of the year prize before.

    • Shawn, the one thing I’ve observed about democrats is they have no more ability to be introspective about their guy or side than the republicans do. Obama has shown us he is a continuation of Bill Clinton and G W Bush in many ways in terms of who he has in his cabinet and who he selects for key positions, and the policies that he has continued and in some case even gone further than GW did, like the NSA, and the failure to bring any meaningful charges against the big name bankers. As I’ve said in the past, at least GW’s AG went after the crooks at Enron and went right to the top.

      I feel so deceived by Obama. I truly believed he was going to take on the establishment as FDR did, but he tells we the people about how flawed the system is, then pursues policies that ensure the democratic party gets those big bucks donated to them from the very corporations he says are polluting the people’s agenda.

      I saw an instructor interviewed today who worked at Virginia Tech. She called Obama out on his failed leadership and how he says change has to come from the people, not Washington. She said Washington makes changes they want to make but when they don’t want to, they say it has to come from the people. How true.

      http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/archive/segment/keith-alexander-rick-ledgett-discuss-amnesty-for-edward-snowden/52af242378c90a42b3000744

  2. Shawn Robinson

    The article you posted makes it look like the things Obama is being criticized for would’ve happened anyway. Well, Obama shouldn’t open his mouth then and make faulty predictions if these things like high deductibles, “narrow networks” and high premiums would happen anyway.
    Not that conservatives can really claim their side told the truth about Obamacare,..

    http://www.salon.com/2013/10/24/6_most_brazen_right_wing_lies_about_obamacare_partner/

    Obama will rightly catch heat for trying to make a Chevy look like a Cadillac.

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