By Froma Harrop
About the Obamacare website rollout: So-rry.
Yes, it’s a mess. Tears of apology have flooded the streets of Washington, raising the Potomac to dangerous levels.
But the federal health plan’s website will be fixed. (The state exchanges seem to have it right.) Once Americans can get inside the doors, most should appreciate their options. To use real estate parlance, Obamacare is not currently a “drive-by.”
Between now and then, though, expect continued histrionics as only Washington can do them. Republicans frame the program as a disaster, and Democrats are into a defensive crouch, as they are wont to do. But when the situation resolves itself, most Americans will forget what they were mad about.
Some non-website concerns do deserve a respectful explanation right away. It is true that a small percentage of people are seeing their private policies canceled. This does not affect the great majority — those covered by their employer, in Medicare or Medicaid, or with a high-quality private plan. Some may have to pay more for better coverage — or possibly not. They’d know if the damn HealthCare.gov site were functioning.
Critics are correct that the president was — how shall we put it? — inaccurate in assuring the public that the Affordable Care Act would not affect people happy with their current private coverage. Point is, policies are being canceled because they don’t offer the basic coverage required under the new law. And more to the point, many who bought these policies are being cheated and don’t know it.
We speak of the cheap mini-med insurance plans that, Consumer Reports writes, “may be worse than none at all.” They are often issued by big-name insurance companies, leaving buyers the impression that they have serious coverage.
Sure, Fox News can dredge up lots of “victims” to insist they were happy with their substandard coverage. That’s because they haven’t had a medical crisis yet.
Consumer Reports offers the example of Judith Goss of Macomb, Mich. The 48-year-old was calmly going through life with a $65-a-month policy from Cigna’s Starbridge plan. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Goss found herself facing a $30,000 hospital bill, with medical “coverage” limiting payments to $1,000 a year for outpatient treatment and $2,000 for hospital care. Frightened by the cost, the former Talbots saleswoman put off treatment until after her tumor had tripled in size.
So what was Goss getting for her $780-a-year premiums? If she’d had no insurance, at least she’d have known she wasn’t covered for cancer. Depending on income, someone in her position might now qualify for subsidies to bring the premiums for good coverage way down. And yes, under Obamacare, an insurer can’t turn anyone away because of a pre-existing condition.
On to the other complaint: Obamacare makes those with decent incomes help the worse-off obtain health coverage. Not a terrible thing, in this opinion, but also not the full story. We who pay full freight have already been subsidizing the uninsured who show up at hospitals for “free” care. Now most everyone will have insurance.
And even the wealthy may come out ahead, as the reforms force some sanity into our ludicrously wasteful health care system. For those in fine health or with high incomes, one can envision the money saved from the efficiencies eventually exceeding the cost of the subsidies.
Foes and even some friends of the reforms are calling those compelled to pay more for coverage or subsidize others “losers” in Obamacare.
“Loser today, winner tomorrow” may not be the most inspired rallying call. And the breakdown of the federal website sure hasn’t helped the education process.
But all shall be repaired. Once the reality sinks in, eyes will dry.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org