Don't just go on fixing up a health-insurance scheme that is beyond fixing. End it. For the Affordable Care act, aka Obamacare, is proving neither affordable nor very caring. It begins to dawn on both insurers and their policyholders that they were sold a bill of goods. And yet the Hon. Barack Obama seems determined to save his signature program. No matter how embarrassing it's proving. It's so much easier to pretend it's working.
But that's not what the latest reports show. And the reports to come may be even worse. Cynthia Cox of the Kaiser Family Foundation, who studies such things, told the Washington Post that in one out of every four counties in the country next year, insurers may offer their policyholders only one government-backed health plan. Insurers keep dropping out because it just doesn't pay to handle this kind of losing proposition. When the sick and desperate sign up for Obamacare, which is understandable enough, that doesn't leave enough healthy folks in the risk pool to take up the slack.
What, this president worry? He's still banging the drum for his signature failure. Just patch it up here and there, he advises in an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Congress should revisit a public plan to compete alongside private insurers in areas of the country where competition is limited," he concludes. "Adding a public plan in such areas would strengthen the marketplace approach, giving consumers more affordable options while also creating savings for the federal government."
But theory is one thing, practice quite another. And in practice Obamacare has never measured up to its inflated promise. In essence, the president who routinely badmouths his opposition now seems to be counting on it to bail him out.
And he's being supported by all the usual cast of characters in this tragicomedy. "There's no bottleneck," Jonathan Gruber, the accidental whistleblower who keeps letting the cat out of one bag after another, told the Post. "This is just the natural growth pains of a new market. What happened is they set up this new market where insurers didn't have experience; insurers made an estimate as to what people would cost, and their estimate turned out to be too low." And if you believe all that, we've got a health-insurance plan for you to buy -- at government order.
Is it any wonder that both insurers and their customers are waking up? United Health Group, Humana, Aetna ... they've backed away from this rigged market, and others are getting ready to. Still others are just getting out of the business altogether. To quote Julie Mix McPeak, the insurance commissioner of our neighboring state of Tennessee, "It's terribly concerning." It should be. Because in most of Tennessee, there's likely to be just one insurer on the federally mandated health exchanges come next year. Similar crises are cropping up -- or soon should be -- in states like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
Consider the case of Joseph Devoy, a 31-year-old Arizona construction worker. As the Wall Street Journal reported, he had to switch to United Health this year after his previous provider stopped selling plans. Now that United Health is leaving his state, he's not sure what he'll have to do next year, confronted with what amounts to a mandatory government monopoly. "I don't know what to do now," he said.
What the American public in general needs to do is scrap this whole misconceived dream called Obamacare and start all over again.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.