Amid the current national uproar over the troubles of the Affordable Care Act, it is almost uplifting to hear the deep concern expressed by politicians, pundits, lobbyists, and corporate leaders over cancelation of existing health insurance policies. They empathize loudly with the millions of potential victims, whose plight infuriates these worthy observers. They fill hours of television and pages of print with expressions of outrage.
Suddenly everyone in Washington is intensely concerned about Americans who are losing their health insurance.
The outpouring of noble sentiment would be laudable — indeed, long overdue — if only there was any reason to believe these protestations are sincere. Sadly, the evidence points in the opposite direction, for a single obvious reason: Millions of people in this country have been losing health insurance for many years, resulting in untold thousands of serious illnesses, bankruptcies, and early deaths – but until insurance cancelations became a political embarrassment for Barack Obama, the usual right-wing reaction was silence. (Except for that awkward and revealing outburst during the Republican debates of 2012, when a live audience howled its approval for the “let him die” plan.)
For anybody who ever honestly cared about people losing their health coverage – for instance, President Obama or his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton – the depressing statistical reality has long been plain. Every day of every year, thousands of people leave the rolls of the private insurance industry in this country, almost never voluntarily.
People often forfeit insurance after losing a job, which happened to millions during the Great Recession. At the recession’s height, when the Tea Party Republicans were fighting to kill Obamacare in the cradle, more than 44,000 people were losing their health coverage every week. In May 2009, the policy journal Health Affairs published a projection that nearly 7 million Americans would lose coverage by the end of 2010.
People also lose insurance because their insurance company doesn’t want to pay the cost of a grave illness (having gorged on costly premiums for years), which has happened to many thousands more. The most recent congressional report on the subject found that three major insurance companies had saved at least $300 million through “rescission” of policies held by 20,000 seriously ill clients, while their profits mounted.
Or people lose insurance because the cost rises and they can no longer afford it, which happens routinely to nearly half the population at some point during every decade. A report released by the Treasury four years ago found that “nearly half of non-elderly Americans” had lived without health coverage at some point between 1997 and 2006, a period of relative prosperity and high employment.