Health insurers foil the Obamacare haters


    Obamacare haters – otherwise known as history’s roadkill – have been having a tough time lately, but their collision last week with factual reality was arguably their quintessential humiliation.

    To set the stage, let’s recap where we are. Much to the GOP’s disappointment, Obamacare is being systematically threaded into the national fabric. Much to the GOP’s consternation, the website got fixed, the signup tally exceeded all expectations, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the uninsured population will drop 20 percent in 2014, the fiscal conservatives at the Committee for a Responsible Government say that Obamacare is helping to lower projected 10-year federal health spending by $900 billion, and the polls show that “repeal Obamacare” is merely a niche obsession.

    Nevertheless, the deniers are still playing the game of ButWhatAbout. For instance: “Yeah, OK, maybe eight million people have signed up so far for Obamacare – but what about actually paying the premiums? Betcha they haven’t even made that first payment. What a train wreck!”

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    In the hopes of boosting their talking point, Republicans on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee recently asked the top health insurers to tally the percentage of Obamacare enrollees who have paid their first premiums. But the request came with a big caveat. The Republicans only wanted to know what percentage of enrollees had paid by April 15 – even though a lot of enrollees didn’t have to make their first payments until May or June.

    Sure enough, the percentage of enrollees who had paid by April 15 was only 67 percent. Bingo! The Republicans promptly crafted a press release, citing the 67 percent stat as proof of Obamacare’s failure. Then they announced that a hearing would be held on May 7, to further trumpet their triumph – and spokesmen for the top health insurers would testify to it.

    Now comes the fun part.

    Turns out, the health insurers didn’t want to be stage props in the GOP’s propaganda theatre, any more than they wanted to be co-conspirators in the GOP’s bid to cook the books. Before they even testified, they told the press that the percentage of enrollees who had paid their first premiums was actually as high as 90 percent – and that the percentage could go higher because a lot of first payments aren’t even due until June 10.

    The insurers shared their testimony with Business Week, which wrote: “Three large health insurers…say that a high percentage of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums, undermining a Republican criticism of enrollment in the program. As many as 90 percent of WellPoint customers have paid their first premium by its due date, according to testimony the company prepared for a congressional hearing today. For Aetna, the payment is in the ‘low to mid-80 percent range,’ the company said in its own testimony. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas, said that number is at least 83 percent.”

    And an insurance industry consultant took specific aim at the GOP’s 67 percent figure: “That was just foolishness on the part of the committee to even publish that number because it was completely out of context.”

    In other words, we’ve reached the point where even the pillars of private enterprise are refusing to dwell within the Republican bubble. This was obvious at last week’s hearing, when the health insurers shocked their hosts by favoring reality over fact-free fulmination. For instance, Dennis Matheis of Wellpoint said the GOP’s 67 percent figure was “not final, and only represents a snapshot in time.” For instance, Paul Wingle of Aetna said the GOP’s 67 percent figure was out of date, and “does not reflect final enrollment numbers, as some enrollees have not reached their payment due dates.”

    This was not what the Republican inquisitors wanted to hear. Oh well, so much for the payment issue. And to cloak their embarrassment, they promptly shifted to a brand new game of ButWhatAbout. As in, “But what about the huge premium price hikes we’re gonna see in 2015?”

    They asked that question any number of ways. But, again, the health insurers refused to play. They don’t know if premiums will go up or down or by how much; clearly, they abhor partisan-driven guesswork. One executive said, “I can’t say for certain.” Another said, “I don’t have the exact numbers yet.” Paul Wingle said, “At this point, we can’t offer any guidance on where they’re going to fall.”

    Such frustration for the Republicans! They’d opened the door to their echo chamber, yet the insurers had refused to march in. Texas Congressman Michael Burgess (who’s arguably best known for insisting that male fetuses masturbate) groused that nobody at the witness table “wanted to be forthcoming.” Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn lamely rebuked the insurers for their “uncertainty.”

    But hey, the Obamacare deniers won’t stay embarrassed for long. Rest assured, their latest setback is already an expunged memory: “The health insurers testified that we’re full of it? Nah, there was no such testimony. At a committee hearing? Nah, there was no such hearing. In fact, there is no such committee. But what about Benghazi?”


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says in a new report that the uninsured population will drop more than 20 percent during 2014 – See more at:
    he nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says in a new report that the uninsured population will drop more than 20 percent during 2014. – See more at:
    he nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says in a new report that the uninsured population will drop more than 20 percent during 2014. – See more at:


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