Remember “I feel your pain” - Bill Clinton’s plaintive response to the woes of Middle America turned into a signature line for his administration, which became a cliché in American politics?
Every politician wanted to connect to the pain of Americans, even in good economic times, and especially during and after the Great Recession. The biggest political attack against Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election related to the exposure of his remarks about the “47 percent” and how out of touch it made the wealthy Republican nominee to the plight of the struggling working classes.
That was then … this is now. Instead of feeling your pain, Harry Reid stood on the Senate floor to tell millions of Americans impacted by skyrocketing premiums, incompetent administration, and policy cancellations from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that they don’t really feel pain at all.
Democrats find themselves hammered by an avalanche of data and personal anecdotes that demonstrate the damage done by Obamacare. Instead of addressing those – which granted, would take most of the time between now and the midterm elections – the Senate Majority Leader angrily dismissed all such information as “untrue.”
"Despite all that good news,” Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday, “there's plenty of horror stories being told. All of them are untrue, but they're being told all over America.” Reid specifically referred to an ad from Americans for Prosperity featuring the case of Julie Boonstra, a leukemia patient whose new plan disrupted her ability to budget for medications.
Reid blamed the brothers who own Koch Industries and who are major contributors to AFP. He dismissed Boonstra and apparently every other horror story as just “stories made up from whole cloth, lies distorted by the Republicans to grab headlines or make political advertisements.”
It’s true that Boonstra’s story turned into a dispute when others looked into her claims. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave the AFP ad two Pinocchios, noting that the premium decrease for Boonstra’s new plan (her existing plan, which she preferred, got canceled under Obamacare) added up to the out-of-pocket limit, negating her claims of extra expense. News media reported on that interpretation, and a Democratic incumbent filed a complaint with the FCC to force stations to stop airing the ad.
However, Boonstra disputes that interpretation, because while it might balance out by the end of a year, the immediate out-of-pocket expenses are much higher in the new plan – and there is no guarantee that the new plan will cover her current medication regime. In fact, they declined to do so when Boonstra tried to renew the prescription.
“I went in to have a prescription filled, thinking well it's never been a big deal,” Boonstra told The Dexter Leader. “I never gave it a thought, and now it's no longer covered.” That means she will pay the full price of the medication up front, and she can’t afford to do it – even if the insurance eventually covers the cost later in the year.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Harry Reid’s dismissal of Boonstra’s pain was entirely justified. What about the pain of Catherine Blackwood, who also lost her insurance due to Obamacare and lost coverage for her cancer medication as a result?
Her previous insurance covered Sandostatin as a treatment for her terminal carcinoid. But despite being repeatedly assured during the problem-plagued enrollment process that her new Obamacare-approved plan would cover the drug, she found out this month as she was going into surgery that her plan would not cover the drug. It costs $14,000 just since the beginning of the year, and now Blackwood will have to cover it all herself.
What about the pain of Katherine Cadman? She signed up for coverage through Covered California, expecting to have access to doctors listed for her plan on the exchange. Instead, out of 41 doctors supposedly in her network and in her area, only four were taking new Covered California patients – and only one of those was board-certified. Julia Turner made a similar discovery after selecting her Covered California plan. The only doctors who will see the San Francisco resident are clinics in the high-crime East Oakland area.
These are just the anecdotes from the last week.
The data looks even worse for the “don’t believe your own lying eyes” messaging strategy. When the initial rollout of Obamacare took place, the Obama administrations oft-repeated claim that the currently insured would be able to keep their plans went out the window, as insurers were forced to cancel insurance for five to six million people under now-forbidden coverage. To this day, the Obamacare exchanges have only had four million sign-ups, with as many as 20 percent of those failing to complete enrollments.
This week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that another 11 million people with coverage from small-business group plans will see their premiums rise as a result of the law – 65 percent of all those with such coverage.
That follows a rapid rise in small-business group plan premiums that coincides with the passage and implementation of Obamacare. The year before the bill passed (2009), the National Small Business Association found that the average cost of health insurance was $590 per employee. Four years later, that average more than doubled to $1,274 per employee – a far cry from the White House promise to “bend the cost curve downward” in health care.
When costs increase again, as the CBO predicts, many of those small-business employers will simply opt to dump health-insurance coverage for their employees. The workers will have to fend for themselves in the individual markets that are inflicting pain on millions of Americans already. Since most small businesses won’t be required to provide coverage, the financial incentives will all be in favor of cutting their losses.
That doesn’t take into account the tens of millions who will lose their current group insurance plans when the employer mandates come into full force, a development predicted not by Obamacare critics but by the HHS itself – nearly four years ago. “The department’s mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013” – meaning those plans will be cancelled.
Given the rapidly escalating costs for providing insurance, even the penalties for opting out of coverage for employees will not stop many from bailing out of group coverage. If so, many more will end up experiencing the same pain as Boonstra, Blackwood, Cadman, and Taylor.
Harry Reid and the Democrats can keep ignoring that pain at their own electoral peril. It’s amazing how quickly they have gone from feeling our pain to causing it, and then trying to convince us that pain doesn’t actually hurt anyone. Not even Bill Clinton can sell that nonsense.
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