Why Isn’t It News When Republicans Make Poor People Pay More For Health Insurance?
You’ve probably never heard of Sherilyn Horrocks.
A 61-year-old woman with autoimmune disease, she was profiled by The Salt Lake Tribune before the governor of Utah’s health summit in September, as an example of someone who would benefit from Medicaid expansion but wasn’t being asked to speak at the event. Horrocks hasn’t had insurance since about 2000, when her husband’s company stopped offering spousal coverage.
Her condition is incurable.
“But there are medicines and procedures that would prolong my life if I could afford them,” she told the Tribune‘s Kirsten Stewart. “I have a feeling I’m going to be one of those who falls through the cracks.”
Her story certainly has ended up between the cracks. She didn’t get to speak to the governor and her story never made it out of Utah.
Welcome to America, where one middle-class woman in Florida having to pick a new plan is a bigger deal than five million poor people being denied Medicaid expansion.
You may have have heard of Dianne Barrette.
She’s the 54-year-old Florida woman who was the subject of a “bombshell” report about the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“What I have right now is what I am happy with and I just want to know why I can’t keep what I have,” Barrette told CBS’ This Morning. “Why do I have to be forced into something else?”
There actually turned out to be an excellent answer to that question.
Barrette was paying $54 a month, more than she would pay as a tax for not being insured during the first year of the individual mandate, to essentially be uninsured. Her plan doesn’t cover hospitalization — or much of anything except $50 toward her doctor visits. One serious illness could have easily bankrupted her.
The New Republic‘s Obamacare Whisperer Jonathan Cohn spoke to Barrette and let her know that for about $100 a month she could get a plan that primarily covers wellness visits but would cap her costs at $6,250 a year, possibly preventing her financial ruin.
“I would jump at it,” she told Cohn. “With my age, things can happen. I don’t want to have bills that could make me bankrupt. I don’t want to lose my house.”
Not every story where someone in the individual market is forced to find a new plan, despite the president’s best efforts, turns out so well.
Lee Hammack and his wife JoEllen Brothers are Obamacare supporters who find themselves in the group of approximately two million Americans who will be paying more for a policy that covers the same as or less than what they had before.
The reasons why this couple from San Francisco lost their plan are complex. They’ve only had it since 2011. The plan selects participants based on their health status and doesn’t cover all the benefits required under the new health law. Kaiser Permanente could have kept the plan in place, Pro Publica‘s Charles Ornstein discovered. But it didn’t for — you guessed it — business reasons.
Hammack and Brothers are healthy and earn just over the 400-percent-of-the-poverty-rate threshold for subsidies. And they will have to pay more for what they currently have because of Obamacare.
To a liberal, they’re the perfect argument for a public option, which would reduce the deficit by multiples more than raising the Medicare eligibility age by lowering insurance rates.
But that’s cold comfort to those who have to pay more.
A small group of middle-class Americans is being asked to subsidize the poor and people with pre-existing conditions in a more direct way than they’re currently subsidizing tax breaks for corporate jets, big oil, vacation homes and hedge fund managers who pay lower tax rates than nurses. In exchange, their insurance can have no lifetime caps, will have to spend 80-85 percent of premiums on care or offer rebates, and will be far more like group insurance plans, which typically offer more customer satisfaction than the often crappy private insurance plans that most people keep for only two years. But that’s a subtle, hard-to-quantify tradeoff.
It’s easy to have compassion for people who have had their plans canceled or have to pay more for health insurance — even Republicans are suddenly doing it.
Millions of Americans are facing cancelations that insurance companies seem to be using to upsell their current customers to more expensive plans. Most of these people haven’t been able to easily get online and shop for new plans due to the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.gov.
So finding stories that justify the narrative that this is Obama’s KatrinaIraqWhitewaterWatergateTeapotDome scandal is fun for the press, especially for Fox News. Mediaite‘s Tommy Christopher is trying to give himself another heart attack by fact-checking the parade of “Obamascare” victims; middle-class people forced to pay more — more! — for health insurance.
But it seems like something is missing from the story, doesn’t it?
Could it be Sherilyn Horrocks? Or anyone who is among the more than five million Americans in 25 states — including Texas, which has the highest uninsured population in the country — who are being denied fully subsidized health insurance through the Medicaid expansion?
Medicaid, which is the one success story in the rollout of the ACA, is nearly completely absent from mainstream press coverage. The expansion of the program has proven effective at reducing Oregon’s uninsured population by 10 percent in just weeks. Nearly 400,000 people have taken advantage of the program, many of them eligible before expansion and just never got around to signing up.
The media focus on middle-class losers over the poor winners should surprise exactly no one. The press goes for whatever gets viewers/clicks/corporate sponsorships.
The real story is the inexcusable callousness coming from the Republicans who are celebrating denying the poor health insurance.
Great news from Alaska — Parnell won’t expand Medicaid. This is how it’s done, John Kasich. http://t.co/9ESJrIaqmf
— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) November 15, 2013
Forget the cruelty of celebrating refusing health insurance to 40,000 people who earn too much for Medicaid. Denying Medicaid expansion is denying your state money to balance its budget, create jobs and support its most vulnerable hospitals. It also raises the cost of health insurance for the rest of the state by as much 9.4 percent.
But Republicans don’t like giving poor people/takers free stuff — “gifts,” as Mitt Romney called them.
So put it this way: Republican governors are canceling millions of people’s insurance and making them pay more for a new plan.
But apparently that’s only a big story if President Obama is involved — or it isn’t happening to poor people.
Photo: Ed Schipul via Flickr.com