Thanks, Obama haters
Well, it happened. I knew it would. People said don’t worry. They were wrong.
I just got an email from CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield with my 2018 plan and monthly payment. I expected an increase — 10–20 percent tops — given President Trump’s actions to kick the legs from under the Affordable Care Act to make sure it’s the disaster he claimed it was.
But I wasn’t braced for this: A 40 percent increase in my PPO Standard Bronze plan to $700 a month. My drug deductible jumps 50 percent to $600, and deductibles for in- and out-of-network care each pop by 20 percent to $6,000 and $14,700.
I’m among the millions who depend on Obamacare to stay covered and healthy. I have an independent communications practice, so I don’t get workplace health insurance. I’m 60, so no Medicare. And while I’m healthy, exercise daily, eat right, and blessed with solid annual physical results with a resting heart rate of 57 bpm, I take a statin for borderline HDL cholesterol.
Before Obamacare, my insurer — the same one I had for 12 years — rejected me when I went off COBRA because needing a statin was a preexisting condition. Fortunately, my doctor intervened to confirm the prescription was strictly precautionary and a solid investment: A 30-day supply of generic statin is cheaper (and healthier) than a $4.45 Starbucks pumpkin spice latte and lowers my risk of someday needing $70,000 to $200,000 in heart surgery.
Given my reliance on Obamacare, I’ve been watching the Trump/GOP Congress clown rodeo to repeal and replace intensely.
Rarely is the political so personal.
I deeply appreciate how the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis and daily media coverage of the debate helped people see how the GOP plans were much worse, as they would jack costs for the sick and toss 16–24 million off coverage.
The debate also clarified that the GOP plans would hurt people in Trump Country the most, since more ACA marketplace enrollees live in GOP districts. (The 10 congressional districts in America with the highest number of enrollees are all in GOP-dominated Florida, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found.) Trump voters tend to be older, with tighter incomes and worse health, and thus are more vulnerable to reductions in coverage and higher costs for preexisting conditions.
Despite Trump’s shameless disrespect — a Vietnam draft dodger insulting a Vietnam war hero and POW? — Senator John McCain is my hero all over again for standing his ground against the GOP charade.
In response, Trump signed executive orders killing crucial Obamacare measures designed to expand the insured pool to spread the risk and lower the cost of coverage. Naturally, costs are exploding, as my Blue Cross letter showed in stark relief.
You’d think I’d put the blame squarely on the so-called “greedy” insurance companies, which Trump wants me to do.
Nope. I’m more frustrated with the Trump base.
Three reasons, and then some Final Thoughts, a la the preternaturally smug alt-right darling Tomi Lahren:
First, insurers are just doing what they do.
Health insurers are merely responding to Trump’s intentional disruption of the market. He may be using his pen as a sword to intensify pressure on Congress to pass a repeal/replace plan, or as vengeance against McCain, or to pander to voters he taught to hate Obamacare. Or all three.
Whatever the strategy, if there is one, Trump is hurting innocent people as insurers merely adjust premiums for the increased risk of uncertainty he created. Managing risk is what insurers do to pay shareholders. Lest you think insurance company shareholders are just greedy fat cats, they’re mostly middle-class folks with 401(k) retirement funds or worker pensions invested in the stock market.
Second, the Trump base made this happen.
You know how frustrating it is when knucklehead drivers cause accidents, injuries and death? Because they’re stubborn, reckless, don’t give a damn or — bless their hearts — don’t know any better?
Not fair, maybe, but that’s how I feel right now about the Trump base when it comes to the healthcare market chaos he created and my 40 percent premium hike.
Among Trump’s 663 campaign promises documented by ThinkProgress, he hammered incessantly on the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Obamacare. “We’re going to terminate it,” he said in Burlington, Iowa, exactly a year ago, repeating a popular campaign rally applause line to deafening hoots and cheers, “it’s going to be replaced with something much better and something much less expensive for you and for the country.”
Trump voters believed him. Without a clue about any Trumpcare plan, how exactly it would work, how exactly it was better, and how exactly it would be cheaper. Trump never really explained any of that. Voters bought his promise anyway. Maybe they forgot President Reagan’s “Trust but verify.”
This is mystifying to me. Despite what Steve Bannon says about establishment types like me to whip up crowds, I don’t think Trump’s base is a “group of morons.” But I can’t imagine many buying a used car without driving it, or not even looking under the hood, because the salesman claimed it was beautiful, fantastic, terrific, tremendous, the best ever in history.
Get suckered on a car deal, worst case, the car dies. Get suckered on healthcare, people die.
Third, everyone pays for the Trump base choice.
For those with employer healthcare coverage who think you’re immune from Trump’s market disruption and cost surge, think again. It may force more employers to cut health coverage, require more cost-sharing, or give you an allowance to buy your own coverage. All of which means more out-of-pocket for employees.
And don’t forget: With Trump and Congress now taking up tax reform, promising major tax relief without blowing out the federal deficit, all big-dollar tax breaks are easy targets. Among them is employer-sponsored insurance — ESI — a $260 billion freebie in 2017 alone. “Any significant cut in subsidies for ESI could lead employers to reduce or even eliminate health insurance as part of employee compensation,” the Tax Policy Center warns.
One major group is protected from Trump’s disruption: Millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street, in Trump’s cabinet, in Congress and at Fox including Sean Hannity and (until recently) Bill O’Reilly even after his $32 million sexual harassment settlement. The wealthy, powerful and connected can self-insure for Mercedes luxury coverage, and also pull strings to see the world’s top specialists, get into Mayo and other top research hospitals, or jump the line for clinical trials and experimental treatment.
Not fair? Who said life is fair? The rich have earned the privilege to suffer less and live longer. Isn’t a conservative talking point that healthcare is a privilege, not a Constitutional right (like gun ownership)?
Final Thoughts for the Trump base:
1. I feel bad for anyone hit hardest by rising healthcare costs and shrinking incomes, and think it’s a crime that people in the richest country in the world have to worry about this basic need. So I understand it’s easy to blame Obamacare for its imperfections and welcome Trump’s free-lunch promise of something better and cheaper.
2. If Obamacare personally is hurting you — say, you’re in the gap earning too little to afford it but too much for subsidies — and there’s no demonstrably better, cheaper replacement plan, why not this: Urge your president or congressman to fix, not nix, the current system. Republican governors John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, along with five Democrats and one independent, have proposed a plan to do just that.
3. If your hate for Obamacare is philosophical, you believe it’s creeping liberal government socialist healthcare, but you or loved ones depend on Medicare, I’m confused.
4. If you take your cue from Fox and other right-wing media bloviators because they feed your beliefs and fuel your resentments, remember: Fox & Friends, etc., can blithely trash Obamacare because they don’t need it. Notable exception: Ms. Lehren, who admitted that while unemployed before she signed with Fox in August, “Luckily, I am 24 so I am still on my parents’ plan” thanks to Obamacare. I guess she doesn’t need it anymore.
5. Don’t call me a hater just because I think Trump is a disaster:
— Responsible members of Trump’s own party believe his divisive, destructive behavior is disastrous for the nation. In speaking out against Trumpism, former President George W. Bush and Sens. McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are giving public voice to what many GOP’ers quietly believe. If you think they’re the problem, you’re blaming the messengers.
— Speaking out against the President of the United States, or any elected official you think is wrong for the country, is not being a hater. It’s exercising our right and responsibility as citizens, even our patriotic duty.
— It’s not about you. Being disgusted with Trump’s debasement of the presidency and disruption of the healthcare market, or even hating the results of your choices, is not hating you.
6. Don’t call me a stupid elite liberal just because I think you made a terrible mistake by buying Trump’s campaign promise on healthcare. Obviously I’m not that smart. I’m definitely neither elite nor very liberal. I’m a pragmatic moderate, if you need a label. And a military veteran, if that helps, who worked my way through college on the GI Bill, student loans, cooking at a pancake house, and washing pots in a dorm for meals. For years after college I took low-paying jobs that barely made ends meet.
I do know a little bit about healthcare policy, since in my career I’ve delved into it for some 30 years now. First as press aide to a Republican congresswoman who specialized in healthcare. Then later as head speechwriter and chief communications adviser for the U.S. health secretary. And for the past seven years, serving a Fortune 50 healthcare company and leadership.
None of this makes me a healthcare policy expert. But I work for a living and worry about my health and paying the bills like most people do. So I need reliable, affordable, quality healthcare like most people do. Before Trump, I had that. Now, not so much.
Forgive me for venting. And of course, feel free to nitpick this piece, or keep blaming Obama and obsessing about Hillary, or shut me down by saying I just don’t get it.
Better yet, Trumpsters, fix this. Trump listens to you. You’re all he listens to. Tell him to stop playing political chicken and power games with our healthcare system, leaving a trail of destruction and chaos without a better plan.
Sure, Obamacare isn’t perfect. No healthcare system is. But if Trump and the GOP Congress can’t do better, then encourage them to mend, not end, the one we have.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.