American Health Care — Where Do We Go From Here?

-Michael Bihovsky

I wrote and recorded a lot of content in an effort to help stop the devastating repeal of Obamacare (not to mention, the time spent planning a major activism campaign that, fortunately and unfortunately, I didn’t get to use). So I want to say a few things now that the Republican Senate failed in its effort to uninsure anywhere from 22 to 32 million Americans, depending on which specific legislation the Senate was voting on at any given moment.

The most important thing I want to say is that this isn’t over. I really wish it were. But while the defeat of the Republican bill was absolutely a victory for health care rights and for basic human decency, it is not a lasting solution. Left on its own, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — Obamacare — will, in fact, implode. This is not the result of the legislation itself, but as detailed in an article by Steven Brill in The Washington Post, it is the result of early Republican sabotage against provisions of the bill that were intended to keep insurance costs down. [Read more…]

Congressman Evans: Senate Healthcare Bill Is a Disgrace

Congressman Dwight Evans. Photo: Wikipedia.

Congressman Dwight Evans. Photo: Wikipedia.

Democratic Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-02) released the following statement after Senate Republican Leadership unveiled a draft of their healthcare bill:

Republicans in the House and Senate say Obamacare is collapsing in our communities nationwide; yet today as a response to fix this ‘so called’ crisis, Senate Republican Leadership has released their draft of a bill that does nothing but reduce access to adequate healthcare. As it stands now, the Senate healthcare bill makes extreme cuts to the federal Medicaid program and doubles down on the President’s vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care).
[Read more…]

Flurry of Last Minute Signups Sends Obamacare Over the Top


Health insurance waiting room, Philadelphia, PA.


Health insurance waiting room, Jacksonville, FL.

Yesterday, March 31, was the last day of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”). Those who have begun the signup process have two weeks to complete the process. Everyone else must now wait until November 15 to sign up unless they are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, or experience a “qualifying life event.”

  • Typical qualifying life events include: moving out of state, certain changes in income, getting married or divorced, or having a baby.
  • Also, those who were unable to apply due to factors beyond their control (e.g. “Natural disasters. Domestic abuse. Website malfunctions. Errors by insurance companies. Mistakes by application counselors.” etc.) can call 1-800-318-2596 and explain their situation in order to get a 60-day extension.

Many people procrastinated and had to rush in order to avoid a financial penalty and be covered before January 2015.

In states across the nation — red and blue — people lined up to apply for health insurance in person, call centers were swamped, and the healthcare.gov website buckled under the unprecedented load. The photos shown here give a flavor of what this looked like.

More after the jump.


Health insurance waiting room, Houston, TX.


Line for health insurance, Las Vegas, NV.


Line for health insurance, El Paso, TX.


Line for health insurance, Columbia, SC.


Line for health insurance, Chicago, IL.

According to the Associated Press, the flood of applicants allowed Obamacare to exceed its enrollment expectations:

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance on deadline day Monday, government officials told The Associated Press….

Seven million was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office for enrollment in taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance through new online markets created under Obama’s signature legislation.

That was scaled back to 6 million after the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov last fall….

“This is like trying to find a parking spot at Wal-Mart on Dec. 23,” said Jason Stevenson, working with a Utah nonprofit group helping people enroll.

At times, more than 125,000 people were simultaneously using HealthCare.gov, straining it beyond its capacity….

Officials said the site had not crashed but was experiencing very heavy volume. The website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 2 million through 3 p.m. EDT. Call centers have more than 840,000 calls.

The RAND Corporation estimates that:

  • One-third of those enrolled in private health insurance at HealthCare.gov were uninsured. That works out to about 2.4 million people.
  • Furthermore, “4.5 million previously uninsured people have signed up for Medicaid since the law launched in October”. This is in part due to the Federally funded Medicaid expansion which most states have taken advantage of (though not Pennsylvania, for example) and in part this is due to increased awareness of Medicaid eligibility criteria.
  • “3 million young adults age 26 and younger have gotten covered through their parents’ insurance plan, as the law allows.”

In all, this means that 9.9 million previously uninsured Americans now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. While much work remains to be done before all Americans have  health insurance, Obama’s signature piece of legislation seems back on track.

Getting A Better Return On Our Healthcare Investments

The graph on the right shows how the United States stands out in the world of health care; we spend far more on healthcare than any other country but our life expectancy is lower than most advanced nations.

However, now that healthcare.gov is back online, many Americans have turned back their personal cost-curve on health care. Even Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) was embarrassed by his success in signing up for Obamacare during a big show he orchestrated in order to demonstrate the failure of the website. (According to NBC, a DC Health Care exchange representative actually tried to contact Boehner by phone during the enrollment process but was put on hold for 35 minutes.)

Here is a sample success story from the Los Angeles Times:

Judith Silverstein, 49, a Californian who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. Her family helps her pay the $750 monthly cost of her existing plan–which she only had because of federal law requiring that insurers who provide employer-based insurance continue to offer coverage if the employer goes out of business, as hers did. Next year she’ll get a subsidy that will get her a good “silver” level plan for $50.

Three local stories follow the jump.

  • In Lackawanna County, after years of denials because of his pre-existing condition, a self-employed contractor now has better health care coverage for less money thanks to Obamacare.
  • According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a man from Pittsburgh’s South Side man has benefited twice from Obamacare — first with high-risk coverage, then with lower-cost coverage through the exchange.
  • In Philadelphia, Obamacare has cut a diabetic small businesswoman’s monthly premiums by $500 – and that’s before she factors in the tax credits.

GOP Negotiations Are On Cruz Control

According to Ezra Klein:

One thing that’s gotten lost in the debate over the shutdown is how much Democrats have already conceded to Republicans on spending. This is partly the consequence of the direct spending cuts in the 2011 debt-ceiling deal and partly the consequence of sequestration (which was, of course, also part of the 2011 deal). Still, the bottom line is that Republicans have been so successful at making Obamacare concessions the issue that Democratic concessions on spending have gone almost unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Jedd Lugum of Think Progress tweets out what kind of “compromise” the Republicans are demanding from Obama.

Affordable Care Act Brings New Health Care Options to Pennsylvania

— by Chris Lilienthal

Beginning today, Pennsylvanians who are working but lack health insurance will be able to shop for and compare options for affordable coverage, on a new competitive Health Insurance Marketplace established by the federal health care law.

Today marks the first day of a six-month open enrollment period, during which uninsured Pennsylvanians and their families will be able to buy coverage with the help of federal tax subsidies on the new Marketplace. It is the latest provision of the Affordable Care Act to take effect.

More after the jump.
Advocates and health care providers explained during a State Capitol press conference today that the new Marketplace will open the door to health coverage for hundreds of thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians, who will be able to see a doctor for the first time in years.

Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said:

This is the beginning of a journey toward meeting the health care needs of individuals and families across the nation. The Marketplace will give Pennsylvanians valuable new options, and allow them to decide which coverage best fits their family’s needs.

The Marketplace is designed for those who don’t have health coverage through their employers and are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or Children’s Health Insurance Program. Those with employer-offered coverage can keep it.

Insurance companies participating in the Marketplace will compete to provide the best product at the best price to consumers seeking health coverage. Tough rules will ensure that every package sold on the Marketplace covers the basics, like annual checkups and preventive medicine.

Pam Clarke, vice president of finance and managed care for The Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), said at the press conference:

Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems across the state stand ready to support consumers in this important enrollment process. We are committed to ensuring that more Pennsylvanians have access to affordable, timely, quality health care, which is so critical to their quality of life. The hospital community and HAP believe the Health Insurance Marketplace will be successful in enrolling many Pennsylvanians in viable health plans.

The Affordable Care Act will also make health care coverage more secure by ensuring that working families cannot be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or lose their coverage or be forced into bankruptcy when someone gets sick. Lifetime caps on insurance benefits will also be a thing of the past.

Seniors who receive Medicare will be able to keep it and do not need to go through the new Marketplace for coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare will cover more prescription drug costs as the new law will close the donut hole.

Ray Landis, advocacy manager for American Association of Retired Persons Pennsylvania, said:

The beginning of the health exchange open enrollment process is especially important for those between the ages of 50 and 64, who are not yet eligible for Medicare, but who have had the most difficult time finding affordable health insurance, because of the chronic health conditions that affect many people in this age group.

Patricia Fonzi, vice president of customer service and relationship management of the Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania, added:

The new law also improves health care for women and children. No longer will insurers be able to charge women more than men for the same coverage or deny coverage for maternity care.

Pennsylvanians should go to the Marketplace’s website to apply through the state’s federally-established Marketplace and to find additional information and help. Open enrollment runs from Oct. 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Applicants must apply by Dec. 15 to begin receiving coverage Jan. 1. People needing assistance can call 1-800-318-2596.  

On Cruz Control: Obamacare Not Halted by Gov’t Shutdown

Representative Ted Cruz has demonstrated his ability to cow Speaker John Boehner and shape the Republican agenda in the House of Representative. As intended, his grandstanding will shutdown the parts of the United States Government tonight at midnight, and raise Cruz’s prospects as poster boy for the Tea Party in the 2016 Republican primaries.

However, these theatrics and scary advertisements with a clown dressed up as Uncle Sam performing colonoscopies and gynecological exams will have no effect on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare” to some). The rollout of the insurance exchanges is mandated by law and will be unimpeded by the government shutdown.

Starting at midnight Americans around the country will have access to their state’s insurance exchanges, giving many Americans access to affordable healthcare for the first time, and giving the rest of us an important alternative.

Information on how Obamacare is working for millions of women after the jump.

Cruz Control: Does Obamacare = Holocaust?

Ted Cruz’s speech voicing his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare was “technically not a filibuster” according to CSPAN since he was not delaying action on a bill, but it was still a long speech. Perhaps too long. When you starting comparing your opponent to Nazi appeasers, you probably have run out of intelligent things to say.

If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany. Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, “Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.”

And in America there were voices that listened to that, I suspect those same pundits who say it can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on TV and they would have been saying, “You cannot defeat the Germans.”

B’nai B’rith International comment after the jump.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement on the subject:

Nazi comparisons are never acceptable. No matter how one feels about this issue, or any issue, invoking Nazi imagery trivializes and undermines the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi machine.

Nazi references and comparisons dilute the horror of the mass genocide that was the Holocaust.

To compare a U.S. law to anything out of Nazi Germany is unacceptable. We call on Cruz to apologize.

Corbett Rejects State Based Health Insurance Exchange For PA

— by Antoinette Krauss, Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network

The Affordable Care Act was written to give states the flexibility to operate their own state-based exchanges and be the innovators of health care reform. Regrettably, Governor Corbett chose to reject this opportunity and instead handed the development of this new marketplace to the federal government.

Either way, Pennsylvania families and small businesses will finally have access to quality, affordable coverage through this new marketplace on January 1st , 2014. Pennsylvania’s health insurance exchange will assure folks have high quality choices at affordable prices, and an easier time finding and purchasing coverage. It will bring stability, certainty and security to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Through the establishment of this new marketplace, and by accepting the new federal funding to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income adults, Pennsylvania can cover up to 1 million residents who are uninsured today. The Affordable Care Act remains on track to bring security and peace of mind to Pennsylvania families.

We urge Governor Corbett to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to develop Pennsylvania’s Health Insurance Marketplace and to accept Federal dollars available to strengthen our current Medicaid program.

New Website: The Jewish Voter Test

Today, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a microsite, The Jewish Voter Test, asking Jewish voters if they agree or disagree with basic questions underlying some of the most pressing domestic and foreign policy issues of our time.

“Every Jewish voter faces a clear choice between two candidates with almost polar opposite stances on so many issues that are vitally important to our community,” said David A. Harris, President and CEO of NJDC. “This new website will offer American Jews a fun, easy and factual test to see where they really stand on the political spectrum.”

The quiz leads participants through the following “yes” and “no” questions:

More after the jump.

  1. Undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children should be allowed to earn a path to citizenship if they join the military or go to college.
  2. As the Buffett Rule suggests, legislation should bar America’s wealthiest from paying a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than those in the middle class.
  3. Laws regarding abortion should be based on the concept that life begins at conception.
    Insurance companies should be required to cover the cost of contraceptives.
  4. Same-sex marriage should be illegal.
    Healthcare in this country should reflect the values of the Affordable Care Act, which expands access to healthcare regardless of income or pre-existing conditions, as well as allowing those under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ healthcare plan.
  5. Medicare should be completely overhauled and privatized.
  6. Federal legislation, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, is necessary to provide women with more legal pathways in the fight for equal pay.
  7. America and Israel should have an unbreakable bond, and the unprecedented level of security cooperation between our two countries should continue.
  8. To prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, there must be very strong sanctions, and no options — including military action — should be taken off the table.

You can visit the website here: www.jewishvotertest.com