Every day the news seems to get worse for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
First there was the botched rollout of the website that allowed only six people nationwide to sign up for the program on the first day it went online. National media outlets reported that nationwide, fewer than 50,000 people were able to sign up in the month of October, when enrollment began. Months into the launch, enrollment numbers here in Maine and across the country remain dismal.
Then came the broken promises. When President Barack Obama was on the campaign trail making stump speeches for the ACA, he said repeatedly, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Since the Obamacare rollout, however, millions of Americans have received notifications from their insurance companies that their coverage is being dropped.
Many of these people are being sent to the ACA exchanges, where they’re discovering that they will have to pay much higher premiums than they were paying before for services that are mandated by the law but that they don’t necessarily want or need.
What’s worse, there’s growing evidence that the Obama administration has known for years that many Americans would not, in fact, be allowed to keep their health care plans.
The rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been an unmitigated disaster, and those who need health insurance the most, including many in Maine, are paying the price for it.
It is unfathomable to me how the administration could not have foreseen the many flaws with the system and decided to forge on ahead, despite all the red flags that were raised before the launch.
If any good can come of this debacle, I hope it will be the state of Maine taking a good hard look at how the federal government wants to get involved with expanding Medicaid here. The same federal government that is behind the Obamacare disaster is promising great things: for three years, it will pay 100 percent of the cost of government-paid health care to 70,000 able-bodied Mainers. After that, the federal reimbursement rate begins to drop. Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services estimates Maine’s share of the expansion will be $150 million for every two-year budget beginning in 2020.
And that’s a best-case scenario. Given what we’re seeing with Obamacare and the failed promise of “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” how confident should we be that the feds will keep their word about reimbursing us?
There are other reasons why I oppose expansion. Chief among them is the fact that Maine is among the highest in the nation in terms of the percentage of its population on Medicaid.
Keep in mind that this is a welfare program in which recipients contribute nothing for health insurance. A large segment of our population needs this care, such as those with disabilities and chronic health issues, and we should provide it for them. But expanding this program beyond our ability to pay for it has hurt us in the past by running up our Medicaid hospital debt and leaving us with state budget gaps.
We are now contemplating running up that debt again with the help of the folks in Washington who brought us Obamacare.
The problem with Obamacare is that it approached health care with a machete, when what was needed was a scalpel.
The Obamacare disaster stands in stark contrast to the successful health insurance overhaul we passed by the Republican-controlled Maine Legislature in 2011. This was a measured, market-based approach that has resulted in dropping premiums throughout the state and more young people signing up for coverage, which was one of the main goals of Obamacare that has gone unachieved.
Under the Maine law, Mainers with pre-existing conditions are able to buy health insurance at the same rates as everyone else through a successful reinsurance pool.
The Maine approach to insurance reform is working, and the latest figures on decreasing premiums from the Bureau of Insurance bear that out. They will be the last quarterly numbers we will see that are unaffected by Obamacare.
Unfortunately, the ACA thus far has given us little hope about the federal government’s ability to successfully reform insurance like we have done here in Maine.
Sen. Rod Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, represents District 26 in the Maine Senate. He serves on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee.