At a rally last week, former president Bill Clinton describes ObamaCare as “the craziest thing in the world.” He said that “the people … out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half,” adding many are being “killed” by the new law.
That’s odd talk from the husband of the Democratic candidate for president. Odder still from the former president who proposed a program very similar to ObamaCare early in his presidency – a proposal fashioned by none other than his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is now running for president.
ObamaCare never had the support of a majority – or even a plurality – of Americans. Polls dating from its inception show its approval ratings hovering around 40 per cent and disapproval at about 50 per cent. But now, one month before the U.S. election, ObamaCare has become radioactive. Even loyal Democrats are running for shelter from the fallout generated by rising premiums, high deductibles and shrinking coverage.
Minnesota, for example, a firmly blue state, just approved premium increases of up to 67 per cent, on top of last year’s hike of up to 49 per cent. Mike Rothman, the Democratic commissioner of the state’s department of commerce, said that ObamaCare is “crushing” the middle class and that the increases he is obliged to impose are “unsustainable and unfair.” The rate hike came shortly after Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota announced that it would pull out of the ObamaCare market in 2017 and many began worrying that other insurers might follow suit.
What happened to U.S. President Barack Obama’s health-care program that began with such high hopes and expectations? Younger, healthy people refused to play ball. Millions even accepted the fines imposed by the law and refused to get coverage. Millions more used loopholes to get themselves exempted from the supposedly mandatory fines.
ObamaCare advocates point out that 16.9 million previously uninsured people have got coverage under the law. But more than half got it through their employers, not from ObamaCare. One-quarter got coverage through Medicaid, the welfare program for the poor that has been around for 60 years. Of the people who actually got coverage through ObamaCare exchanges, more than half previously had insurance plans that were cancelled under ObamaCare. Only 4.1 million newly insured people owe their coverage to the program – less than one per cent of the population.
Why are premiums so high that the young and the healthy are spurning the program? Liberal overreach.
As ObamaCare was being passed, every special interest medical group – from chiropractors to psychiatrists, drug counsellors and sex change surgeons – weighed in to demand coverage for their specialty, in return for their support. Those who just wanted catastrophic coverage were out of luck – they were forced to buy the whole package.
The system was rigged from the start against those who are young and healthy. The average older patient needs coverage that costs five times more than policies on the young. But ObamaCare only limits premiums on the elderly to three times, meaning that young people have to eat the difference.
The system is now showing its cracks as health insurance companies – including United Healthcare, America’s largest health insurer, and numerous others – have begun withdrawing, given that they have no idea how to finance the system. Health insurance companies backed the bill initially because the Obama administration promised to backstop any losses they incurred. The ObamaCare legislation specified a subsidy to go to any company that lost money covering its beneficiaries, in effect treating health insurers as utilities. But Republicans stripped the appropriation for this safety net from the budget and, with the subsidy gone, the insurers are fleeing.
All this leaves Hillary Clinton holding the bag. She vigorously supported ObamaCare and proposed a slight variant of it herself in 1993. The collapse of the program is making her look bad and the premium increases have been more effective at slicing away her vote share than any Trump mailing could possibly be.
But the collapse of ObamaCare has raised the natural question: what now? Clinton’s Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, essentially proposed shifting to the Canadian system of government-run health care, calling for the expansion of Medicare, the government program for the elderly, to those under age 65. Forced to the left, Clinton countered by proposing permitting people aged 55 to 65 to sign up for Medicare.
This raises the spectre of “socialized medicine,” which has long been a bugaboo among Americans. With horror stories about the systems in the U.K., France and Canada, Americans have generally resisted government-controlled medicine. The elderly fear rationing. Most people worry about delays, waiting lists and the limited availability of doctors.
Whether their worries are justified or not, they offer fertile ground for Donald Trump to plow as Election Day approaches. ObamaCare, the president’s proudest achievement, may become a giant anchor weighing down his party in the election.