To the editor:
I am responding to Francis Rooney's commentary, "Repeal and Replacement of Obamacare a Top Priority." Rooney's condemnation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is reminiscent of campaign rhetoric, full of misinformation, exclusions of good information and, as usual, those condemnations of President Barack Obama. He (Rooney) states: "Patients, doctors, and businesses have been dealing with the failures of Obamacare since it was enacted. Millions of hardworking Americans have felt the pain of skyrocketing costs and plummeting levels of care."
This over-used and misleading argument against Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) purposefully ignores two important facts. First, our U.S. health care system was spiraling out of control with increasing medical and premium costs for decades. In 2009, for example, the well-regarded Kaiser Foundation found that since 1999, health insurance premiums for families rose 131 percent, far more than the general rate of inflation, which increased 28% over the same period. Moreover, the research discovered that 40 percent of small business employees paid annual deductibles of $1,000 or more in 2009 twice the number that paid that much in 2007. Finally, the over-all cost of health care in the U.S. has risen over 800 percent since 1960. That compares to an average wage increase of only 16% during the same period (The Kaiser Foundation). The health care crisis was well advanced even before Obama took office. It's a complete and utter misrepresentation of the facts to blame an already escalating crisis on the Affordable Care Act.
Second, the ACA was crafted to help the American lower to middle income population who were being denied health insurance (and, thus, health care) by an out-of-control market-driven, private insurance system. Given the disdain Republicans have for "entitlements" of any kind and their decades long refusal to address the growing number of Americans without health care, it is absurd to assume that Obama would have taken on the task of reform for any reason other than the good of the American people. His intentions certainly were not to gain political points.
Having said that, the ACA is not perfect. We still have an uninsured rate of around 9-10 percent and insurance corporations are raising premiums to boost their bottom line. This is the nature of a for-profit health insurance system and needs to be remedied. It's important to recognize, however, that premium rate hikes are driven by insurance corporations, not the ACA. This is true, also, for "changes" in policies that require people to change doctors and/or hospitals. Simply put, insurance corporations had the prerogative to let people keep the same policies, the same doctors and the same premiums but chose not to as they scrambled to improve their profit margins. To imply that insurance corporations were "forced" to raise premiums by the ACA is an attempt to completely absolve them from any responsibility for seeking higher profits at the expense of the American public. It is perhaps prophetic that Rooney and other Republicans choose to vilify Obama and the ACA rather than holding corporations and corporate executives responsible for changing policies and raising premiums.
Overall, most Americans recognize the improvements over the system prior to the implementation of the ACA when the uninsured rate was soaring and people were totally at the mercy of the practices of denying and "purging" utilized by insurance companies. Most importantly, millions who were previously denied health insurance are now insured. Young people can stay on their parents' policies longer and people with disabilities and so-called "pre-existing conditions" cannot be denied health care coverage. Annual and life-time caps which previously allowed insurance corporations to pull coverage from individuals and families no longer exist. An improved system of identifying and stopping Medicare fraud has been implemented and is working. Simply put, the ACA removed the practices of insurance corporations that ultimately forced individuals and families into bankruptcy and poverty. We should never allow them to return to those practices.
Constituents in SW Florida and across the nation, should watch carefully as Republicans in Congress "repeal and replace" as they have promised. Their target is not only the ACA, they are also looking to fundamentally change Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid through privatization, block grants and so-called "health savings accounts." The "privatization" of Medicare would end a health care guarantee for millions of seniors and other vulnerable Americans. Ending the Medicaid "entitlement" would remove the much-needed safety net for over 80 million low-income Americans including our most vulnerable children. "Health savings accounts" in place of "entitlements" will once again place Americans in jeopardy of financial destruction in case of catastrophic illness or injury. Republicans, as usual, will disguise their efforts through terminology such as "patient choice," "market competition," "get government out of your health care decisions," the "evils" of Obamacare and "flexibility." History has made it clear, however, that Republican intentions, including those of Tom Price and Paul Ryan, who are likely to be chief architects of the "plan to repeal and replace," are to weaken the entitlements of the American people now guaranteed by law. This includes Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid as well as the Affordable Care Act, which, again, has decreased the uninsured rate of Americans to less than 10 percent.
In closing, using the Budget Reconciliation Process to defund the ACA, as Francis Rooney has suggested as necessary, is a knee-jerk and ill-conceived act that will leave millions in jeopardy of losing their health care coverage. It is difficult to understand why a policy-maker would make such a reckless recommendation, especially one who represents a State (Florida) wherein people have greatly benefited from the ACA. The uninsured rate in Florida fell from 29 percent to 13 percent in 2015. This is still above the national average but a huge improvement. Most of Florida's newly insured enrolled in private insurance plans (U.S. Department of Health/Human Services). One has to wonder what that rate would be had Florida chose to participate with a state health insurance exchange and an expansion of Medicaid when given the opportunity.
St. James City