Bluegrass Beacon – Obamacare: Public policy malpractice

BluegrassBeaconLogoReviews on cable news and social media of retired Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s response on behalf of the Democratic Party to President Donald Trump’s first – and powerful – speech to a joint gathering of Congress aren’t great.

Speaking while seated in a diner with a small group of attendees who appear largely impassive in a let-us-know-when-we-can-get-back-to-the-pie-and-coffee sort of way, Beshear’s canned and casual approach made it seem more like he was headed to a backyard barbecue than offering a serious response to the commander-in-chief’s weighty address.

“Small and stunty,” panned liberal MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow.

However, “to be fair to Beshear, going after that Trump speech is like taking the stage after a U2 set with nothing but a ukulele in your hands,” radio talk-show host Buck Sexton tweeted.

If life hands you a ukulele, at least find an effective composition to play.

Nothing is ever as effective as truth – especially in these days of fake news and alternative facts.

Alas, it seems all Beshear can locate is “Obamacare’s Concerto for Ukulele and Liberals in F (for Failure) Minor” as he remains stuck on maintaining that 22 million more Americans, including a half-million Kentuckians, “now have health care that didn’t have it before.”

At least 14.5 million of those Americans – including more than 400,000 Kentuckians – got their coverage through the misnamed Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility, which simply means that all previously uninsured citizens on Medicaid now have is a card in their pockets identifying them as government-program beneficiaries.

No assurance of actual care exists.

But that’s just one of the problems with off-key claims by Beshear and his fellow Obamacare supporters. Consider also:

  • Obamacare provides a costly barrier to needed care.

A Families USA study shows that premiums for high-deductible plans purchased through Obamacare’s exchanges are increasing by double-digit amounts and more annually – 116 percent in Arizona last year alone – resulting in one in four of those customers skipping doctor’s appointments and medical tests while struggling to pay the bigger invoices.

How does this add up to better care or lower costs?

  • Labor-force participation is dropping in states using Obamacare to expand Medicaid.

While Beshear spoke of unemployment-rate drops, fiscal experts are more concerned about Obamacare’s impact on discouraging people from even looking for work.

Georgetown University researcher-turned government analyst Tomás Wind reports that “expanding Medicaid is associated with a 1.5 to 3 percentage point drop in labor force participation” in states that chose to join in the expansion.

  • Obamacare perversely drives up costs then punishes individuals who work extra to pay for it.

People who’ve taken extra jobs to cover double-digit increases in premiums for policies obtained through Obamacare’s exchanges risk abruptly losing thousands of financial-aid dollars.

Tort reformer Ted Frank of the Manhattan Institute Center for Legal Policy used the Kaiser Foundation’s Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator to show how a 62-year-old earning $46,000 in a high-cost area suddenly loses the $7,836 tax credit that helps cover his premium if he earns just $22 more.

Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in noting Frank’s example writes that while it makes sense to “gradually phase out” subsidies for those whose incomes rise and who need less government help, Obamacare takes a “far more extreme and indefensible” approach.

“It suddenly takes away thousands of dollars in subsidies when many people earn a few extra dollars – blindsiding many of them in the process,” Bader writes. “… That leaves them much worse off than if they had never earned that extra income, potentially leaving them poorer for taking on a second job to pay the costs of their health insurance.”

It’s so severe that our 62-year-old will have more take-home pay if he earns $46,000 than if he reaches $55,000.

Frank’s conclusion: “This is just public policy malpractice.”

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Bluegrass Beacon – Obamacare’s Kentucky success: A real fish tale

BluegrassBeaconLogo I spot some information on Obamacare’s far seas where the Kentucky Department of Insurance rides on high waters, indicating the leak that began forming last year in the creaky boat carrying Kynect – Kentucky’s version of Obamacare – is expanding.

Is water filling this boat?

I listened closely as insurance-department officials revealed rate increases being requested for 2016 by insurers offering plans through the Kynect health exchange, and could have sworn to hearing gurgling noises coming from air pockets as Obamacare drowns in the sea of broken promises offered by its namesake.

President Obama while campaigning for office in 2008 promised: “I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.”

The fact that the Kentucky Health Cooperative, which was created with taxpayer-funded loans for the express purpose of providing coverage to Kentuckians seeking subsidized insurance, is seeking a whopping 25-percent increase in its rates makes the president’s claims equivalent to a big fish tale from the high seas.

After the real size of this whopper was revealed, Obamacare defenders tried to walk their promise about lower premiums back, claiming that what they really meant was the situation would have been much worse without their reforms.

“It’s an indication of just how much the health insurance reform debate has changed that Obamacare defenders are now thrilled that premiums are going up, on average, only 7 percent or 8 percent,” Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation, told the Heartland Institute’s Health Care News. “They now proudly claim that’s no worse than it was before Obamacare – even though the promise had been that premiums would go down.”

This fish tale grows even more when combining Kentucky Health Cooperative’s demand for a 25-percent rate this year with last year’s requested – and granted – 20 percent increase, which makes it a 45-percent increase just during the past two years.

Other states have their own favorite Obamacare fish tales.

Health Care Service Corp., the primary insurer in New Mexico’s exchange, wants a 52-percent spike.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee asked for an increase of 36 percent – which, since it’s an average like Kynect, means the smallest increase any Tennessean enrolled in the plan will get socked with is 20 percent while some get hooked with ginormous 60-percent hikes in their health-insurance premiums next year.

Similar ranges will occur within the Kentucky Health Cooperative Plan. Some Kentuckians will get hit with a much-larger increase in 2016 than the 25-percent “average” being sought by the financially struggling cooperative.

Rate increases aren’t the only factor contributing to the leak in Obamacare’s boat.

High-deductible plans purchased through exchanges have resulted in one in four of their customers nationwide skipping doctor’s appointments and important medical tests, according to a new Families USA study.

Even though these lower and middle-income Americans are ineligible for Medicaid and have purchased plans through a government-run exchange, they cannot afford to pay their premiums and out-of-pocket deductibles – a minimum of $1,500 on exchange plans – while still going to the doctor and obtaining important tests.

Even as they struggle, these enrollees are held up by Obama and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear as evidence of the Affordable Care Act’s success.

In this year’s State of the Commonwealth speech, Beshear praised Obamacare, claiming “Kentuckians will visit the doctor half-a-million more times” and that the program will result in “a higher quality of life.”

That claim has all the elements of a really good, developing fish tale, a real whopper – Obamacare-style.

It’s like being on a sinking boat in the ocean’s midst while dreaming you’re on dry land.

Wishing doesn’t make it so.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.