Monthly Archives: November 2013

Obama wrong: you can’t keep junk insurance

The horror stories are rampant. In Alabama alone, Blue Cross Blue Shield is canceling 87,000 health insurance policies. Around the nation, people who liked their inexpensive individual insurance plans say they must replace them with a more expensive one because of the Affordable Care Act.

The stories raise two distinct issues, one minor and one major.

One is whether President Barack Obama lied when he said, more than once, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” This is the minor one.

Certainly Obama was wrong. Maybe he was making a paternalistic assumption that people do not “like” lousy individual insurance policies. Or maybe he was lying; it would hardly be the first time for a U.S. politician. This is a minor issue, because he’s serving his final term as president. His fluctuating poll numbers really don’t much matter.

Distinct from Obama’s motives in making the false statements is whether the fact not all people can keep the cheap individual insurance policies they “like” is a bad thing.

The policies being canceled under Obamacare do not meet even the minimum standards of the law. They fall far short of the excellent “platinum” insurance, fall short of the gold and silver policies, and can’t even meet the minimalist coverage requirements of a bronze policy.

The common gripe is that it’s unfair for one insured to have to pay premiums for a service he will never use; why should a man have to pay premiums for policies that cover maternity care or mammograms? But this is not unique to Obamacare. Men already pay premiums for policies that cover uterine cancer, just as women pay premiums for prostate cancer. It’s called sharing the risk, and it’s the point of insurance.

A recent Consumer Reports investigation looked at a horror story that went viral. A 56-year-old Blue Cross insured told CBS her monthly premium would jump from $91 to $591.

For starters, Consumer Reports concluded her actual premium would only increase to $165 after subsidies.

More importantly, her $91 policy was “junk insurance,” to use Consumer Reports’ term.
The plan she likes was of little benefit even for minor ailments. If she were to require treatment for something major — Consumer Reports used the example of breast cancer — the $91 policy would be all but worthless.

The investigation assumed a $120,000 treatment cost for breast cancer. The policy the woman said she likes because it costs her little in premiums would leave her with a $119,000 bill. The policy that complies with the ACA, while it has a higher premium, would limit her personal expense to $6,300.

Because the woman had an annual income of $30,000, a $119,000 medical bill probably would mean bankruptcy and a shifting of her providers’ unreimbursed costs to the rest of us.
The uproar over the fact that some people with individual insurance will pay more under Obamacare may suggest the president was dishonest.

More importantly, however, the uproar focuses attention on the number of people who have junk insurance that provides little protection for them and almost none to a nation reeling under the burden of unpaid medical bills.


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Filed under Health care, Obama, Obamacare

No surprise: immigration law a bust

“Today’s settlement is a great victory for the law-abiding taxpayers of Alabama.”

That was the surreal statement by state House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, when the ill-conceived and comically named Beason-Hammon Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act collapsed under its own weight Tuesday.

How various Alabama taxpayers and citizens view undocumented immigrants is irrelevant to an inescapable conclusion: The law sponsored by Hammon and state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, was a disastrous failure.

The eventual fate of the 2011 law was clear when it was passed in a rush, without awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending ruling on a nearly identical Arizona law.

The warning of lawyers did not dissuade Hammon or Beason. Nor did it dissuade the many legislators — including all of those in Morgan and Limestone counties — who voted for the law.

The “great victory” touted by Hammon was a settlement agreement between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union. The state’s “victory” required Alabama taxpayers to foot $350,000 in ACLU attorneys’ fees. State Attorney General Luther Strange has refused to compile the taxpayer-funded cost of defending the law. The settlement also made permanent the federal-court injunctions blocking almost every significant provision of the law.

Far from a victory, the settlement was a surrender. Hammon’s effort at self-justification notwithstanding, it was the state’s acknowledgement that the law was an expensive and foolish misadventure.

Despite the law’s name, it provided no protection to taxpayers. It was a political stunt that drained money from a state government that is limping along on money borrowed from reserve accounts.

Hammon and Beason presented the statute as being all about respect for law. What the courts and Tuesday’s settlement made clear, however, is that their effort was itself an affront to law.

Whether blinded by prejudice or political ambition, they and their colleagues chose to violate the nation’s most cherished laws, those set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

By codifying hate, they tore the state apart. Religious groups, even those who generally support conservatives, could not stomach a law whose express purpose — as succinctly stated by Hammon — was to attack “every aspect of an illegal alien’s life.”

It tore Hispanic parents from their children and pitted Alabamians against each other.

The law dredged up memories — both within the state and around the world — of Alabama’s past treatment of those who do not look like the state’s white majority.

Hammon and Beason defend the law by claiming it was what many of their constituents wanted. All of their constituents, however, expected them to balance political pandering with wisdom.

Had they had done so — or had their more sensible colleagues found the courage to oppose them — Alabama would not have been tarnished by a futile and expensive exercise in self-humiliation.

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Filed under Alabama politics, immigration