Despite Media Hysteria, The Salesmanship Must Continue

When it comes to those Americans who are now having their present health coverage canceled by insurance companies for next year, there is something akin to mass hysteria going on in mainstream journalism, some of it now being exposed for what it is (see here and here, for instance).

nbc news bannerIt’s too bad that such mass hysteria isn’t happening over the fact that, despite passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans still won’t be able to get insurance, many of them because Republicans are sabotaging the law, refusing to implement it by not expanding Medicaid in selected states (including here in Missouri) and encouraging people to break the law by not purchasing insurance on the exchanges. Would to God that national and local journalists were busy reporting on that reality night and day.

But they’re not. Nearly everywhere you look, stories are popping up about how terribly unfair it is that many Americans who have to purchase insurance on the individual market—about 5% of the population—are being told by their insurance companies that policies that weren’t grandfathered into the Affordable Care Act or that don’t meet the new minimum standards in the law are being canceled. (Never mind that the individual insurance market was highly volatile before ObamaCare.)

One can turn anywhere now and see clips of Barack Obama uttering a variation of, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Oh, the outrage! Look how many times he said it! Depending on who you listen to, the President “lied” or he “deceived” us or he “misled” us all when he made those statements. And those coming forth to defend the President are being shouted down, much like the way right-wing MSNBC morning man Joe Scarborough tried to shout down former Obama health policy adviser Ezekiel Emanuel this morning:

EMANUEL: The law did not kick anyone off their plan. The law did not say you have to cancel those plans. The law said if on March 23, 2010, as long as you keep that plan in place and don’t change it radically you can stay on it forever. You can drive your Pinto without airbags or seat belts forever. 

On the other hand, if the insurance company changes the plan, if you go off that plan to another plan, you have to get a new plan. Who’s making that change? The insurance company. Let me give you a little secret—

CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute, though…

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, come on! That’s garbage! That’s garbage! This is so beneath you, Zeke. This is so beneath you.

EMANUEL: No, it’s not beneath me…

SCARBOROUGH: Yes it is. You’re better than this…

EMANUEL: No, one more thing, which is, the insurance companies want out of that market. That’s why they’re changing the plans and that’s why they’re sending the cancellation notices. They want out of it.

Now, Ezekiel Emanuel, it must be said, isn’t some ordinary talking head. He is a Harvard-trained physician who also holds a Ph. D in political philosophy from the same school. He is an oncologist and a bioethicist. Presumably he knows a little something about medicine and insurance and politics and ethics. And he has refused to allow the opponents of health reform to shout him down (see, for instance, his appearance on Fox News Sunday). He has often been a lone voice out there raging against the anti-ObamaCare hysteria.

emanuel shouted downEmanuel’s point about what is happening shouldn’t be missed: the reason insurance companies are beginning to stop marketing their sub-par plans to consumers is because those plans soon won’t be profitable: the companies can no longer sell them to new customers and without new customers feeding them dollars, those policies will soon become a burden too heavy for the profit-minded companies to bear. Thus, they are getting ahead of the game by cancelling now, grandfathered in or not.

Now, we can argue about whether President Obama or advisers in his administration knew in advance that insurance companies would behave like profit-minded corporations (they should have known; it’s the nature of the beast). We can argue about whether the President should have been more nuanced in his statements (he should have been and people have a right to call him on it). We can even argue about whether it is reasonable for some people to complain about having to pay more for coverage they don’t need (it is reasonable, but they also benefit from changes in the system). But what about the heart of the issue, as it relates to these individual health plans in particular and health reform in general?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people can no longer purchase inadequate insurance that was making a lot of profits for the insurance industry but exposing customers to medical bankruptcy? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people with health insurance no longer have to worry about going completely bankrupt because of an illness that runs up bills past policy limits? As The New York Times reported,

…nearly two-thirds of Americans who declared bankruptcy cited illness or medical bills as a significant cause (PDF) of their bankruptcies. And of the medically bankrupt, three-quarters of that group had insurance, at least when they first got sick.

Surely those of us who support health care reform can make the case that for all its faults—and there are many—ObamaCare at least has the benefit of giving folks the peace of mind to know that they are not necessarily condemned to bankruptcy if they get horribly sick, right? That insurance companies can no longer sell crappy plans that leave people financially vulnerable? That people can get relatively affordable insurance and good health care even though they have a preexisting medical condition?

Because if we can’t sell that stuff, if we can’t convince people that those things are worthy goals, then we are pretty poor salesmen. And, more important, we will never get anything better than ObamaCare.

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From HealthCare.gov, here are the ten essential benefits that all health insurance policies must provide:

essential health benefits graph

4 Comments

  1. There you go again, Duane — being all logical and honest and such. The Right Wing media (which is 99% of all of it) is not gonna have anything to do with integrity and professionalism. Why do you bring up such craziness?

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  2. Yes, Generalist, you got it right. ‘Splaining this stuff is like trying to teach my little dog, Winston, economics. But, fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. Go, Duane.

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  3. Jane Reaction

     /  November 4, 2013

    Well said. You’re not going to see anything like it in the Globe. Wish we could franchise such accurate explanations.

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