If it’s good enough for everyone else, then it should be good enough for Congress and the president.
So goes an increasingly popular refrain among critics of “Obamacare.” It makes a good sound bite, and U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Hutchinson, has been using it relentlessly – though certainly not exclusively. Problem is, it’s one of the many distortions and exaggerations that come out of the noise that is politics these days.
The merits or not of the Affordable Care Act aside, part of our job here on the editorial page is to challenge the politicians and conventional wisdom, or lack thereof. So here it is: First off, Obamacare isn’t for everyone. Secondly, members of Congress and White House employees haven’t exactly exempted themselves.
What’s most important to remember is that the Affordable Care Act specifically wasn’t designed to be a health insurance program for the entire American populace. That would be nationalized health care, and nobody wanted that at the time, so what we got was a program designed to use the existing employer-based health insurance structure but make sure everyone – or at least closer to everyone – gets covered. The goal was complete coverage because the intolerable, ongoing inflation in health care costs is due in large part to the insured population bearing the expense of the uninsured.
Therefore, Obamacare was designed only to cover the 15 percent or so of the nation’s population that lacks health insurance. That’s not everyone. People who already have health insurance, whether through an employer, Medicare or Medicaid, for the most part aren’t affected by the health care act. They won’t be “in” Obamacare.
Congressional and White House staff are just like people who work for other employers. They may have especially good plans, though look around at government workers locally and you find many of them also have considerably richer health care benefits than private-sector folks. But the point of the Affordable Care Act was not to have employers stop providing health insurance. Therefore, we shouldn’t want Congress or the executive branch to do that, either.
That said, Obamacare critics think that many private employers will drop health insurance plans and simply pay a penalty to the federal government. That’s possible. It can be a cheaper alternative for many employers.
But that supposition ignores the dynamics of a competitive employment market. Companies that suddenly offer no health insurance benefits stand to lose employees to companies that do. When it comes to compensation, benefits are nearly as important as salary – and for some people even more important.
Even though the case can be made that federal government employees should continue on the health insurance plan they have now – so the federal government remains competitive as an employer, too – in response to this “what’s good for the goose” argument, Congress and staff will be pulled out of the federal health insurance plan and will go into the new health insurance exchanges to buy insurance. They will, however, get 75 percent of their premium covered.
Some will point to that and say Congress has “exempted” itself from Obamacare. Not really. Congress is just providing roughly the same health insurance benefit to its employees it always has. A premium paid 75 percent by the employer is not uncommon.
Above all, readers should remember than only 13 percent of us (the percentage of uninsured Kansans is slightly less than the national average) will fully experience Obamacare – at least as it now stands. So don’t let the politicians talk about “everyone” so liberally when chances are it doesn’t mean you or most folks you know.
— The Hutchinson News