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In Our View: Obamacare Not a Failure

Congress should focus on improving health care law, not on trying to kill it

The Columbian
Published: November 4, 2016, 6:03am

Recent news that premiums for policies under the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare — will increase about 25 percent next year has been met by the predictable reaction and overreaction.

And while the number is eye-opening on its face, it also lends itself to misnomers that are political talking points under the guise of information. First of all, the rise in costs likely will not impact you. A vast majority of Americans receive health care through employers or Medicare. An estimated 7 percent of the population receives insurance through Obamacare’s state-run exchanges. Second of all, the rates for individual health-insurance plans in Washington are expected to rise an average of 13.6 percent next year, far below the national average.

That is because Washington has been proactive in embracing and adjusting to the Affordable Care Act, working diligently to foster competition by providing a wide range of insurers and a wide range of adequate plans for consumers. States that did not expand Medicaid in conjunction with Obamacare typically are expecting larger cost increases than those that expanded Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums for mid-level plans are expected to increase 5 percent in Washington next year, while going up 27 percent in neighboring Idaho.

Although an assessment of the Affordable Care Act requires more examination and involves more nuance than simply looking at the raw numbers, the landmark act is not without problems. Insurers have found that too few young (and mostly healthy) people are signing up for insurance, leaving others to bear the costs for those who have high health-care bills. The system can be strengthened by toughening the mandate for all to carry insurance and by eliminating loopholes that allow some to sign up only when they are in need of treatment.

That will require leadership on the part of the next president and the next Congress, which leads us to the primary problem with the Affordable Care Act. For six years now, Republicans have embraced the trope that Obamacare is a failure while working to ensure that such a declaration becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than pursue efforts to make the system work better for consumers and insurers, critics have attempted to torpedo it.

The philosophy boils down to, “Government doesn’t work well, and we’ll prove it by not doing our jobs.” That mantra could be witnessed earlier this year with the Transportation Safety Administration. When stories about long lines at airports became a talking point, many conservatives claimed it was a failure of government while ignoring the fact that the situation was a result of the department being defunded. That is ideological rigidity, not leadership.

The Affordable Care Act has several aspects that benefit citizens, most notably a provision that guarantees people with pre-existing conditions can purchase insurance. The system has extended insurance to some 13 million people, many of whom had none before and, according to Bloomberg News, more than 91 percent of Americans are now insured while about 84 percent were insured prior to Obamacare. That strengthens our nation by assisting families, benefiting the poor, and reducing long-term costs by expanding preventative care.

Obamacare has problems, but those problems have been outweighed by the benefits. And next year’s Congress should focus on fixing the problems while enhancing the benefits.

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