Democrats' New Obamacare Strategy: Lowering Expectations

Posted: Oct 14, 2014 12:01 PM

Scaling back the public's expectations is a strategy Obamacare defenders ought to have employed during their original sales pitch of 2009 and 2010. If they hadn't made some many big, falsifiable promises, a lot of consumer anger, frustration and betrayal might have been prevented. Then again, if they hadn't made all of those vows, the law wouldn't have passed in the first place. With round two of Obamacare enrollment coming up after the elections (by design), the administration is trying to play things down.  Explicit goalpost-shifting from the "it's working!" brigade.

The Obama administration vastly oversold how well Obamacare was going to work last year. It’s not making the same mistake this year. Gone are the promises that enrolling will be as easy as buying a plane ticket on Orbitz. The new head of HHS is not on Capitol Hill to promise that is on track. And no one is embracing Congressional Budget Office projections of total sign-up numbers. Sobered — and burned — by last fall’s meltdown of the federal website, the administration is setting expectations for the second Obamacare open enrollment period as low as possible.

The idea is to keep quiet, then claim victory if and when things aren't a total disaster -- which they still might be for far too many new and re-enrolling consumers. But people still remember the biggest promises that were parroted endlessly by Democrats -- keeping their preferred plans, substantially lower rates, etc.  Speaking of premiums, Politico reports:

Double-digit rate hikes for individual health insurance plans have become an issue in the Louisiana and Iowa Senate races over the past week, where the Republican candidates are hammering their Democratic opponents for the steep premium increases on the way next year for some customers under the Affordable Care Act. In Louisiana, Rep. Bill Cassidy called the double-digit increases for some insurers — including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana — “another hurdle for families and businesses already struggling under the demands of Obamacare” and blamed Democrats for “false promises” that premiums would go down. In Iowa, Senate candidate Joni Ernst used the sharp rate increases for two insurers to blast the Democratic candidate, Rep. Bruce Braley, for supporting the law, charging that “thousands of Iowans are paying for it.”...In most states, premiums for coverage in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges for 2015 are rising at about the normal rate for health insurance throughout the country.

Alaska is another state with a contested Senate rate where premiums are jumping considerably.  Even Politico's best attempt at pro-Obamacare spin falls short of the expectations mark set by the president and his Congressional allies.  Americans weren't promised "premiums for coverage...rising at about the normal rate for health insurance across the country."  We were promised lower rates across the board, to the tune of $2,500 per family, per year.  That's not happening.  Prices remain on the rise for most consumers, and in many places, the new spikes are worse than before the "Affordable" Care Act was passed to "fix" that trend.  And the true impact of the law on premiums won't be fully known until 2017 rates are released, after bailout-style taxpayer assistance programs for insurers sunset.   Meanwhile, many Americans are still worried sick about high out-of-pocket costs, as reported by the Associated Press:

They have health insurance, but still no peace of mind. Overall, 1 in 4 privately insured adults say they doubt they could pay for a major unexpected illness or injury. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research may help explain why President Barack Obama faces such strong headwinds in trying to persuade the public that his health care law is holding down costs....The survey found the biggest financial worries among people with so-called high-deductible plans that require patients to pay a big chunk of their medical bills each year before insurance kicks in. Such plans already represented a growing share of employer-sponsored coverage. Now, they're also the mainstay of the new health insurance exchanges created by Obama's law.

You may recall CNN's recent report on the growing trend of hospitals asking for up-front payments from patients seeking treatment, which is related to this sticker shock problem.  I'll leave you with this nugget about California's Obamacare system, which made headlines in August for its shrinking network of providers:

California's health insurance exchange has awarded $184 million in contracts without the competitive bidding and oversight that is standard practice across state government, including deals that sent millions of dollars to a firm whose employees have long-standing ties to the agency's executive director. Covered California's no-bid contracts were for a variety of services, ranging from public relations to paying for ergonomic adjustments to work stations, according to an Associated Press review of contracting records obtained through the state Public Records Act. Several of those contracts worth a total of $4.2 million went to a consulting firm, The Tori Group, whose founder has strong professional ties to agency Executive Director Peter Lee, while others were awarded to a subsidiary of a health care company he once headed. Awarding no-bid contracts is unusual in state government, where rules promote "open and fair competition" to give taxpayers the best deal and avoid ethical conflicts. The practice is generally reserved for emergencies or when no known competition exists.

Oh, yes. Highly "unusual."