Not a day goes by that the news doesn’t tell another story about the disfunction of the healthcare.gov website. Tales of crashing, messages that the site is down and long, long, long waits have topped the news cycle since the October 1 rollout of the government’s health insurance exchanges. I hadn’t bothered to create an account and try to find a health insurance policy in the first month. Who wants to be the first one in line to try out any new computer system? Ask anyone who has used the new medical records programs or a university’s new computer system. There are always snafus and crashes in a program that is so complex. It only takes a tiny programming error to throw the whole thing off.
So after waiting a month, I finally created an account with healthcare.gov. That only took a couple of minutes. A few days later I tried to log on and begin the rest of the procedure to apply for health insurance. There was a message that the site was down and would I please try again later. Since the deadline to buy a health insurance policy without penalty is March 1, we had time to come back later. A couple of days later, I logged on and without any problems filled in all the required information such as my husband’s and my birth date, Social Security numbers, income information, address, phone number (all of which would be asked for by any insurance company). The whole process took me about 40 minutes. At that point I was given a list of possible insurance policies to consider. I also knew approximately what we could expect to receive in income tax credits.
That really wasn’t nearly as awful as I had expected it to be.
I heard a congressman from Colorado questioning Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathryn Sibelius last week. He said he had turned down his federal health insurance and bought individual insurance so he would be in the same situation as all of his constituents. He thought Secretary Sibelius should do the same and enroll in the government’s health exchange, even though it would be illegal for her to do so because she is offered affordable health insurance by her employer.
He doesn’t seem to understand much about health insurance.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans receive health insurance through their employer or their spouse’s employer. That number has dropped in the last decade, not because of the Affordable Care Act, but because premiums have been steadily rising for more than a decade in response to the escalating cost of providing health care. Another 20 percent of Americans receive health insurance from the government through Medicare, Medicaid, other programs or as veterans. Of the remaining 20 percent, about 4 percent buy their own insurance and almost 16 percent are uninsured.
The Colorado congressman is wrong. Only those of his constituents who either buy their own insurance or are uninsured need to bother log onto the healthcare.gov web site. Like most Americans, the majority of his constituents get insurance through their work and do not qualify for insurance through an exchange. Most do not need to set up an account. It is surprising that so much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth is occurring over the need for 20 percent of us to be inconvenienced by the process. Filing our income tax takes far more forms, takes hours longer and is exceedingly more difficult to understand. I know people who would stand in line outside a big box store in the wee hours of the morning to get Black Friday deal on a video game. Why is even a couple of hours spent shopping for a major purchase like health insurance such a problem?
It is easy to forget that health insurance costs were escalating by double digits long before the Affordable Care Act was passed. Employers were dropping coverage or at least increasing employees’ share of the costs before anyone had heard of a health insurance exchange. Insurance companies denied coverage to people who had preexisting conditions and cancelled peoples’ coverage when they got sick. Patients found that their care was not covered and out of pocket expenses drove millions into bankruptcy, even if they had insurance. The mandate for individuals to buy insurance was a trade off to the insurance companies in exchange for giving up the ability to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. It is ironic to me that the uninsured are vilified for getting free health care and driving up everyone’s cost. Yet nothing seems to have riled the opposition up more than our being required to buy insurance.
Obamacare is not the disaster many would make it out to be, and millions of people will be able to buy health insurance for far less than they could in the past. It will make comparing one insurance company’s policy to another a little easier. It will limit companies’ ability to drop your coverage when they have to pay out big claims. There may be more benefits in the future as the glitches are ironed out.
Our system is still broken. The Affordable Care Act is not going to fix it. This is a bandaid bought and sold by the insurance industry. They gave up a few things, but in the long run they will benefit from adding millions of new customers.
The ACA or Obamacare will not curb the constant rise in the cost of healthcare in this country. It will not even result in all of our nation’s uninsured having access to health care. Millions of dollars of our premiums will still go to pay exorbitant executives’ salaries, shareholder profits and insurance company paper shuffling. We will still spend far more for health care than any other country in the world.
Copyright © 2013 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains