Despite my political views leaning solidly to the left, my bleeding-heart never really beat too loudly for Obamacare.
Let me be clear, Obamacare was obviously a step in the right direction compared to the system that preceded it, where people with pre-existing conditions were left uncared for and thousands went bankrupt thanks to cruel insurance companies and costly health care options.
And instead of offering an alternative public option that would have made a much larger impact on the high costs that plague our current health care system, anti-government Republicans fought hard against Obamacare provisions.
But, as the current reality of our increasingly-costly market approach sets in, the idea that Obamacare itself was some panacea for the woes of our terrible health care system has justifiably faded.
Delaware is the perfect state to examine the Jekyll & Hyde nature of Obamacare.
Due to its low population, trying to persuade insurers to join Delaware’s marketplace was going to be a hard sell. On top of that, the state has some of the highest health care costs in the country, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal report.
Thanks to the lack of competition, the two insurers that are part of the Delaware marketplace are raising rates dramatically. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware has been approved for a 22.4 percent rate hike (they wanted to raise rates by 33 percent, so hooray). Meanwhile, Aetna Life Insurance Company is jacking up their rates by 16 percent.
That’s really stretching the “affordable” in Affordable Care Act.
So what’s going on here? Greedy insurance companies trying to line their own pockets? The collapse of a bloated health care system Republicans have been warning people about for years?
Nope, the hikes are being caused by the large (but predictable) health care problem Obamacare ignored – the marketplace.
Most experts agree that the forces causing insurers to ask for double-digit increases across the country are a combination of pent-up demand, a lack of data (exchanges have only been open a couple of years) and the low enrollment rate of younger, healthier individuals.
In Delaware, all three are true. The rate of millennial sign-ups is 23 percent, among the lowest in the country – only West Virginia had fewer young people signing up. And it’s that pool of young, mostly healthy individuals, that insurers need to subsidize the older, more costly individuals they’re not forced to serve.
In addition, both insurance companies initially kept their rates lower in an attempt to gain market share. Now that we’re two years in, and with most customers (yes, that’s what we call patients in our for-profit system) showing a reluctance to switch plans, insurers are free to increase rates to enhance their profitability moving forward.
Just the marketplace at work
This is why Obamacare was always just going to be a Band-Aid for our health care woes. The president’s heart was in the right place, but forcing millions (or in Delaware’s case, tens of thousands) of people to pay into a for-profit system that is costly, inefficient and basically unsustainable was never going to be viable.
The good news is we have a system right here in this country that could easily be adapted to provide citizens with truly affordable health care, and alleviate businesses of what is most often the second-largest cost on their balance sheet. It’s called Medicare.
The only candidate pushing for a Medicare solution is Bernie Sanders. According to Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a Medicare-for-all system would actually save money – about $10 trillion over 10 years.
It would also save thousands of lives a year by genuinely expanding access and care to the uninsured. But sadly that seems less important to free-market capitalists quick to slam it as a socialist takeover of health care.
I’m pretty sure both businesses and individuals would be thrilled if the government severed the link between employment and health insurance. Not only would this enable business owners to compete better globally against other countries that already have universal health care; it would enable entrepreneurs who keep their 9-5 jobs solely for the insurance coverage to break off and focus on new endeavors, bringing ingenuity back to our business world.
Why I never hear a single Democrat making the simple, pro-business argument for universal health care is beyond me.
Regardless, it’s really the only way to end these double-digit Obamacare premium increases once and for all. Sadly, it would require our gutless politicians to undergo a spine-strengthening procedure, which so far isn’t covered by Obamacare.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe