Why Sensationalistic Reports Of People Being Dumped From Their Insurance Plan Are Misleading

Republicans have been doing everything possible to avoid real discussion of health care reform. They are sometimes aided by journalists who do not understand the complexity of health care policy, and who want to report a scandal when none exists. Recent misleading media reports on people being “booted” from their health care plan is encouraging Republicans to make a lot of nonsense noise leading Greg Sargent to conclude, correctly, that normal debate about Obamacare is impossible. He wrote, “the GOP outrage about Americans supposedly “losing” coverage is largely just more of the same old misdirection. It’s a subset of a larger Republican refusal to have an actual debate about the law’s tradeoffs — one in which the law’s benefits for millions of Americans are also reckoned with in a serious way.”

The question of whether people can keep their current insurance is comparable to the faux controversy I recently discussed over whether people can keep the same doctor they now have. The real point in these arguments is over whether people who are happy with their coverage will continue to have the same type of insurance care and medical coverage (with added protections they do not have now). Conservative groups have been spreading all sorts of misinformation to make people think that there would be a drastic change under Obamacare. I’ve had heard from numerous Medicare patients who believed that Obama was ending Medicare. (No, it is the Republican plan which would wind up doing that). One patient emailed me recently asking if she had to give up her Medicare and sign up for Obamacare, upset that she would have to give up having me as her physician. Many with private insurance also believed that they would lose that coverage and be forced into a government run health system. None of these scare stories are true.

It is with this backdrop that reassuring people that they can keep their current type of insurance and continue to see their current doctor has been important. This does not mean everyone will have exactly the same insurance plan and that nobody would every wind up changing doctors. It is a fact of life in the old system that a variety of factors would cause insurance plans to change, and people could wind up having to change doctors. Only seventeen percent of purchasers on the individual market typically purchase the same plan for two or more years. Short of total government control of all medical practices, which nobody wants, it is impossible for the government to guarantee that nothing will change. What is different is that people will no longer lose their insurance, or access to their doctor, because of issues such as insurance companies dropping them when they get sick or not being able to afford insurance if their financial situation changes.

As many others have, I recently received a letter from my insurance carrier that my current policy will not be available as it does not meet the requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The insurance company had the option of grandfathering subscribers and continuing the old plan versus offering another policy from the same company. When I went to check on line I found that they were also offering several other plans. I never had this choice before. There are also more choices from other companies. I purchased my current plan when my previous plan decided to get out of the individual market in the area by raising their rates to levels which were exorbitant even by the standard of health insurance costs. At the time there were no options available which included routine office calls and prescription drugs. Coverage of both are now required, which is why my current plan is no longer offered. Instead I will wind up with another policy from the same company which covers more at a modestly higher price.

I am probably one of the biggest losers in this situation, but I’m not complaining. I will have to pay more for insurance, but not an outrageous amount. I do not qualify for subsidies, and I do not have significant medical costs, so I will wind up a bit behind. Many others will benefit from the added coverage while paying far less than current premiums thanks to the subsidies. Other people will also wind up saving more money due to the increased coverage, making up for the increased premiums.

My new coverage won’t cost that much more. Some people will probably see a bigger jump in premiums, until the subsidies are taken into consideration. Some insurance plans cover so little they should barely even be considered insurance. Via Steve Benen, Erik Wemple presented  a misleading example from Fox from someone complaining about having to change to a more expensive policy. More information gave a different picture than what was presented on Fox.

More coverage may provide a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of Barrette’s situation: Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn’t cover “extended hospital stays; it’s not designed for that,” says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? “Outpatient only,” responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover “most of my generic drugs that I need” and there’s a $50 co-pay for doctors’ appointments. “It’s all I could afford right now,” says Barrette.

In sum, it’s a pray-that-you-don’t-really-get-sick “plan.” When asked if she ever required hospitalization, Barrette says she did. It happened when she was employed by Raytheon, which provided “excellent benefits.” Ever since she left the company and started working as an independent contractor, “I haven’t been hospitalized since then, thank God.” Hospitalization is among the core requirements for health-care plans under Obamacare.

Maybe at present this is all she can afford, but she will be able to afford more due to the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and will really save a lot of money if she winds up in the hospital again. As bad as this policy sounds, I have seen people with even worse.

While it might come as a shock to some reporters and Republicans that some people will have to change plans due to meet the current core requirements, this was never a secret. There is nothing misleading about this. Think Progress has cited several sources which discussed this during the initial health care debate. It is only a surprise to those who failed to understand the law, or those who want to make misleading attacks.

As for the Republicans, the problem is that they were intentionally absent from the debate, deciding to vote against any health care reform and refusing to take part in framing any form of bipartisan plan. It is a valid argument that perhaps people should be able to purchase more limited plans. I, and many Republican voters, are capable of paying for out-patient services not covered by our insurance and perhaps we should be able to purchase less expensive plans. (Of course there is also the option of the bronze plans for those who do want to reduce insurance  premiums and can afford to take on more risk, and people under thirty can purchase inexpensive catastrophic plans). If Republicans felt more choices should have been available, they should have brought it up during the health care debate. Republicans could have exacted plenty of compromises in return for passing a plan with greater bipartisan support. As Republicans failed to participate in the process, it is hard to take their complaints seriously now.

Update: I initially left out the fact that insurance companies could grandfather subscribers who had old plans and were not forced under the Affordable Care Act to have people change plans. Initially I left this out to keep the discussion simpler, not thinking it was important that this option existed if insurance companies chose not to offer to continue the old plan. As discussion of this issue is increasingly turning into the accuracy of old statements versus whether insurance companies are at fault. More in this post.

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