Obamacare was used as a battering ram against Democrats running for office in 2016 and could boomerang against Republicans in 2020.
Many people seem to have forgotten that presidential candidate Barack Obama promised national health care when he first ran for the White House in 2008 and that it was a popular idea.
Millions of Americans were losing their health insurance because business owners facing profit margin cuts during the Great Recession could no longer afford to pay skyrocketing premium costs. Still other employers saw no reason to offer such benefits in an employer-friendly labor market.
In addition, there were millions of sick people who were being denied health insurance because, well, they were sick. Health insurance companies, in case you’ve forgotten, are in the business of making money. Anyone with a pre-existing condition was considered too great a risk.
People who had lost their jobs in the Great Recession (and there were millions of them) discovered the cost of health insurance in the private market beyond their financial means. Some who chose not to get health insurance ended up going broke when a medical crisis struck their families.
In fact, even those employed with health insurance often ended up in bankruptcy court because insurance companies placed financial ceilings on their medical care and sometimes simply denied coverage claiming treatments were experimental in nature.
Health insurance premiums skyrocketed. Co-pays and deductibles increased. Employers sometimes offered insurance only through an HMO, which meant people could no longer use their family doctors or their hospital of choice.
And all indications were that America’s health insurance system was only going to get worse, not better, in the future.
That’s why Obama and many Democrats embraced the idea of government health care coverage. That’s why it was a popular idea.
But the plan they put in place was destined for failure. Instead of a government-run health insurance program, like Medicare, Obamacare provided subsidies to private insurance companies to offer insurance. His plan also expanded Medicaid, which was insurance for the poorest Americans, and prohibited discrimination against people with pre-existing health conditions.
There wasn’t enough money to subsidize the program because there were no taxes tied to it. And when only sick people signed up for Obamacare insurance, the insurance providers began pulling out saying they weren’t making enough money. Premiums increased as insurance options became limited.
Republicans in Congress are already moving to repeal Obamacare and President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to do so on his first day in office.
But what about the 20 million or so people enrolled in Obamacare? What about the millions added to the Medicaid rolls? And what about the billions of dollars in federal subsidies that turned out to be inadequate?
Despite six years of claiming they had a better idea for health care, it now appears Republicans really hadn’t agreed on anything or seriously thought this through. If Democrats were smart (and there is little evidence of that) they would get out of the way and let Trump and his allies destroy a program badly in need of major revision and reap the benefits of the inevitable public backlash.
Republicans are fond of saying that government ought to get out of the way and allow the marketplace to run things.
That’s the same marketplace that denied insurance coverage to millions of sick people, raised premiums beyond the reach of individuals and business owners, made billions of dollars in profits and sometimes refused to pay for medical care just to reduce their own costs.
Other countries understand health care is a human right. As more people lose their employer-based insurance and continue to pay more in out-of-pocket expenses there will be a voter mandate once again for change.
Someday the U.S. will join the rest of the civilized world by making sure everyone has access to medical care.
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