Health Care Reform

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Understanding Obamacare: Insurance You Can Afford

This article was originally featured in the Sept 18, 2013 edition of the Shepherd Express in Milwaukee
Question: How does the Affordable Care Act ensure that insurance plans are affordable?

Answer: The Affordable Care Act has a variety of ways to make sure that everyone has access to affordable coverage. First, the law prohibits insurance companies from price gouging people with pre-existing conditions, older consumers and women. The law also provides for more transparency and accountability from insurance companies. When consumers can truly compare apples to apples, companies will compete for customers with better products and better prices.

Obamacare also offers tax credits or subsidies based on an individual’s or family’s income. The role of these tax credits is to make sure that no matter one’s income, health coverage will only be a small percent of their yearly income. Who qualifies? Anyone who makes $45,960 as an individual, or $94,200 as a family of four, in 2013 dollars.  

That will become clearer after Oct. 1, when consumers will be able to view their insurance options on the new marketplace and will see if they qualify for a tax credit to bring down the cost of their health coverage. Insurance policies will fall into bronze, silver, gold or platinum plans based on their quality and cost.

The Obamacare tax credits are immediately reflected in the price consumers pay, not an end-of-the-year rebate. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that nearly half of consumers on the new health insurance marketplaces will receive tax credits, which will on average reduce the sticker price of a family plan at the silver level by 32% (or $2,672). The subsidies would reduce the cost of a bronze plan by 77%.

Obamacare’s combination of greater insurance policy transparency, non-discriminatory pricing, increased competition in the insurance market and tax credits will ensure everyone has the freedom to pursue the American Dream and not be constrained by health care.

—Kevin Kane, Citizen Action of Wisconsin

The Shepherd Express and Citizen Action of Wisconsin will answer questions about the Affordable Care Act in weeks leading up to its implementation. Got a question? Email editor@shepex.com.

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The Right’s Failed Health Care Propaganda

In last week's Crossroads, Christian Schneider tried to defend the practically indefensible, Gov. Scott Walker's immoral and fiscally irresponsible decision to reject hundreds of millions of federal dollars to strengthen Wisconsin's popular BadgerCare program.

In the process, Schneider deploys every propaganda trick he can muster to defend Walker's controversial decision. In so doing, he provides a textbook example of the right-wing conspiracy to confuse public opinion about the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) as we approach its critical full implementation phase.

Deconstructing Schneider's melange of misleading claims and chopped logic can help clear the air as we undertake the vitally important task of reforming our nation's badly frayed health care system by guaranteeing that every American has the freedom to obtain quality affordable health coverage, no matter what.

Schneider begins his diatribe by making light of a public statement I made that if Walker succeeds in turning down enhanced federal funding to strengthen Badgercare "there is no doubt that many Wisconsinites will die as a consequence." Schneider tries to laugh off my grave conclusion by making flippant remarks about police reports, chainsaw-wielding madmen and even Mao and Stalin. These weak attempts at humor can't cover the fact that Schneider has no facts to refute the public health research establishing a higher premature death rate for people without health coverage. Access to affordable health coverage is no laughing matter; it is a matter of life and death.

As a second level of defense, Schneider makes the counterfactual claim that Walker is actually greatly expanding health coverage. This is highly misleading because it gives Walker credit he does not deserve for expanded private market health coverage created by Obamacare, which the governor bitterly opposes. In his recently signed budget, Walker forces nearly 90,000 people off BadgerCare. He did broaden eligibility for childless adults in poverty, but this would have happened anyway, and at much lower cost to Wisconsin, if Walker had taken the Affordable Care Act dollars.

The Walker administration's own budget papers, as well as the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, clearly show that the governor's budget decision to reject enhanced federal BadgerCare dollars will result in thousands (and possibly tens of thousands) fewer people with health coverage, while costing the state $149 million more. It is irrefutable that in 2014, as a direct result of Walker's irresponsible decision, fewer Wisconsinites will have health coverage and that the state will pay more for inflicting completely avoidable misery.

As thin and misleading as Schneider's initial defenses of Walker are, they are robust compared with the rest of the column, which leaps to the ridiculous assertion that some over-hyped bumps in the road in creating the new health insurance marketplaces (or exchanges) under the Affordable Care Act somehow vindicates Walker's decision to turn down federal dollars for BadgerCare.

Schneider claims Walker relies on BadgerCare, a "traditional state program," but the fact is that the hundreds of millions of dollars Walker turned down would have gone directly to that very program. That any additional money that comes as a result of the Affordable Care Act is somehow different than other federal dollars Walker is happy to accept is absurd on its face.

Schneider uses this nonsensical claim to launch into a recitation of standard right-wing talking points, which allegedly establish that Obamacare is, in his words, "imploding." His main evidence for this is the recently announced one-year delay in assessing fines on large businesses that do not provide affordable coverage for their workers. While I think this delay is a mistake, it is a ridiculous leap in logic to say that an adjustment in the timeline for implementing one provision of the health care law justifies Chicken Little-like pronouncements.

The fact is that the Affordable Care Act is one of the largest and most pragmatic reforms that America has undertaken in decades. It has many moving parts because it seeks to fix rather than replace our current health care system. There are going to be many bumps in the road.

Making the law work is a critically important task because if it is repealed, and the private health insurance system is allowed to continue to implode, the freedom of all Americans to control their own health care decisions will continue to decline. Insurance companies will continue to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, throw people off coverage when they are diagnosed with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, charge discriminatory rates to women, early retirees, small businesses, the self-employed and throw young adults off their parents' policies.

Conservatives commentators such as Schneider and politicians such as Walker are muddying the waters in every way they can because they have no real answers for average Americans who just want the freedom and opportunity to obtain affordable health care for themselves and their families, no matter what. The misleading propaganda they are using to poison the critical public discussion of health care reform also threatens our democratic capacity to reason together about vital public issues.

Robert Kraig is executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

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