Email this article to a friend

Activists rallying for Obamacare at the Supreme Court (Will O'Neil/ Flickr /Creative Commons)

Republicans Suddenly Love Obamacare

In a change of heart, Republicans are now outraged over the slow progress of the Affordable Care Act.

BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

But a faulty federal website is exactly what he and other Republicans wanted. They did everything they could to ensure that’s what happened.

In a shocking turn of events, Republicans now care about whether Americans have health insurance!

It happened quite suddenly. The moment can be precisely pinpointed. It occurred early in the day of Oct. 1 when the media declared the launch of the Affordable Care Act website a fiasco.

Bam! Presto change-o! The GOP saw an opportunity and seized it, no matter that it required complete reversal of the party’s previous policy position. Congressional Republicans railed and ranted about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Affordable Care Act website denying Americans the ability to sign up for health insurance. Not only that, the GOPers cried, some insurance companies were cancelling the policies of some constituents!

Before this miraculous transformation, the GOP had for years fought all attempts to provide health insurance to the 47 million Americans without it. Not one Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will extend coverage to 25 million Americans. Then House Republicans voted 46 times to cripple or kill the law.

 

 

Republican lawmakers in 22 states refused the ACA’s Medicaid expansion that would have enabled 5 million of those states’ residents to get coverage.  Republicans shut down the government for 16 days in a failed attempt to defund the ACA. And Republicans created the “burn your Obamacare card” campaign to persuade young people to pay fines and risk bankruptcy and death by refusing ACA health insurance.

But that’s all over. Presto change-o! Now Republicans want Americans—including young people—to get health insurance! They’re outraged, really OUTRAGED, that the faulty ACA exchange website is making it difficult for Americans to buy insurance. They’re doubly outraged that insurance companies have cancelled the policies of some constituents because, apparently, they think Americans can only purchase insurance on the exchanges and not the way they’ve previously always bought it—directly from insurance companies.

“My constituents are frightened,” announced U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, “They are being forced out of health care plans they like. The clock is ticking. The federal website is broken.  Their health care isn’t a glitch.”

That is true! Health care is important to Texans who can afford to buy their own plans! Republicans like Brady believe, however, that health insurance is not important at all for the 1 million low-income Texans who would have qualified for it under the ACA Medicaid expansion—the expansion that the Texas GOP refused to accept, thus denying low-income people coverage.

That’s quite a glitch for low-income residents of the state that likes boasting about its big stuff—like its record of being number one in the country for the highest rate of uninsured people!

Brady claims to be very, very angry that the website is faulty. But a faulty federal website is exactly what he and other Republicans wanted. They did everything they could to ensure that’s what happened.

If they wanted to improve the likelihood that their constituents would get a smooth-operating system, they could have set up their own state-based exchange websites. Kentucky did that, and its site is being held up as a model for what the federal site could be once it’s repaired. Similarly, there have been few complaints from residents of the 12 other states that established their own exchanges.

Usually, Republicans are all for states’ rights. They hate centralized, federal power. But not in this case! That’s because they knew the more states that piled into the federal exchange, the more crushing the demand and the more likely something would go buggy. And that’s exactly what they got! Thirty-six states rebuffed the opportunity for local autonomy, and Republicans got what they wanted—something else to complain about, even if that means they’re whining that their constituents can’t get the very insurance that Republicans never wanted them to get anyway.

Brady’s complaint about insurers dropping clients is legitimate. It’s outrageous. The law allowed some of these plans to continue—grandfathered in—even though they didn’t comply with the new rules. But some insurance companies cancelled them anyway.

In some other cases, the policies didn’t qualify for grandfathering. And in some, the insurer would have cancelled them whether the ACA had been passed or not. Such cancellations occurred regularly in the past.

In some cases, the insurers sent the policy holders threatening termination letters. Some policy holders interpreted these letters to mean that they had to buy more expensive policies immediately or lose coverage. At least one state has fined a national insurer for misleading policy holders.

In another case, an insurer cancelled the plan that covered a Seattle woman, her husband and 15-year-old daughter and recommended they accept a new plan at an extra $300 a month. The letter didn’t mention Washington’s state insurance exchange, where the woman found a plan that will cost her family $1,000 less a month than the one the insurer told her to accept.

Her conclusion: “People who are afraid of the ACA should be much more afraid of the insurance companies.”

Not everyone will be as lucky as this Seattle woman. In the end, the ACA will probably force about 3 percent of Americans to buy higher-quality and probably more expensive health plans. Another 3 percent will have to buy a new plan but will pay about the same amount for about the same benefits. Eighty percent of people will be unaffected. And 14 percent will benefit greatly. These are the Americans who are currently uninsured and will gain access to affordable policies under the ACA.

That’s not perfect. But now that Republicans have decided they care whether Americans have access to health insurance, surely they will be working night and day to assist the 3 percent who will have to pay more, and no longer trying to kill the law that will help 25 million Americans get health insurance.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

View Comments