Grays Harbor County has been called the “sickest county in the state.” Life expectancy there has long been three years shorter than the state average.
So the news that the last of the health-insurance companies are pulling out of the coastal county, potentially leaving it as a medical-insurance desert for individual plans, was greeted with a dark sense of familiarity.
“Are we being punished here in Grays Harbor?” asked Doug McDowell, host of a morning radio talk show “Coffee Talk” on Aberdeen’s KBKW.
He was kidding. But unfortunately, it’s about to get dramatically worse.
Grays Harbor now is one of two counties in the state, and 47 in the nation, where insurance companies have decided not to offer individual plans anymore under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The political industry has responded by firing up a blame game. It’s Obama’s fault for designing a lousy law. No, it’s President Trump’s fault for sabotaging the law.
Insurers in Ohio specifically cited the Trump administration’s destabilizing of the law for why they pulled out. Here, insurers said the high costs of treating Grays Harbor’s patients was the primary reason. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the insurers tell him privately there’s too much uncertainty.
Either way, the good people of Grays Harbor, calling in to KBKW recently to talk of everything from impeachment to the fishy smell coming from Hoquiam, seemed pretty clear-eyed about the big picture.
“The powers-that-be could fix this if they weren’t hellbent on imploding it first,” one said.
“The Trump administration is destroying it, but it wasn’t a very good system to begin with,” another caller summed up. “So … what will we end up with when they get done?”
That is the key question. Obamacare’s attempt to insure millions using subsidies for free-market insurance has been a mixed bag, and it is teetering now. Any healthy political system would respond by fixing it — by reducing some regulations to allow cheaper coverages, as Republicans would like, while boosting subsidies to keep coverage in rural areas, as Democrats favor.
But instead we get this: “Wave goodbye!” Trump chortled in Ohio after an insurance company there, Anthem, announced it was leaving 18 counties with no options for individual insurance. What kind of a person, let alone a president, celebrates people losing their health coverage?
That political malevolence is the danger sign for places like Grays Harbor. The 2,200 residents set to lose individual insurance there are but a fraction of the misery that appears to be coming.
Misery by design
Bizarrely, it’s misery by design.
Grays Harbor, being a high-unemployment county, is one of the most reliant in the state on Obamacare’s other major plank, the Medicaid expansion. The Republican health-care bill that passed the House last month would cut the money for that, eliminating coverage for 9,206 more Grays Harbor residents.
That means 21.3 percent of all adults in the county under age 65 would be tossed off medical coverage.
“I wonder what all the people out here who are going to lose their health care think of Trump now?” one caller asked, when the debate turned to how Grays Harbor backed Trump.
I don’t know how we’re going to move forward on health care, an issue that’s stumped us for decades. I guess we’re going to tear it all down and cast millions off coverage first, before we eventually crawl on all fours to a better way.
“This is sickening that an entire county could be left behind like this,” said a resident from Ocosta, a spot outside Aberdeen.
That’s the right word. Obamacare tried. But now that it’s faltering, nobody in Washington, D.C., is apparently going to lift a regal finger to help the sickest county in the state. The sickening truth is, the plan is to make it sicker.