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Plan obsolescence

Obamacare pushes millions out of insurance policies the president promised they could keep

UNHEALTHY SITUATION: Ricardo Mola speaks with a certified application counselor after unsuccessfully trying to enroll for Affordable Care Act insurance in Miami, Fla. Joe Skipper/Reuters/Landov

Plan obsolescence
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Jim and Vicki White have spent about a decade paying $402 a month for a health insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. It carries a $5,000 deductible. But they recently received a letter from their insurer that their monthly premium would skyrocket about 344 percent to more than $1,380 a month. Despite the rate increase this new plan would include a higher, $6,000 deductible. The reason: a law called the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

“We were dumbfounded and ticked off to say the least,” said Vicki White, an office manager. “I found it comical they would use the term affordable in calling it the Affordable Care Act. That sure is a lot of spin. People are going to wake up when they find out what this is going to cost them.”

The Whites, both healthy and in their early sixties, discovered the cheapest Obamacare-approved plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield would cost $861 monthly—more than twice what they are paying now—and carry a $12,600 deductible. That meant about $23,000 in out-of-pocket expenses before a penny of insurance kicked in. They are now looking at joining Medi-share, a program where Christians share in each other’s healthcare costs. “If they had started this a year ago before the elections I wonder if Obama would have been reelected,” Jim White said.

In 2009, President Obama promised, “If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.” He repeated the promise all the way through his reelection campaign in 2012. But with Obamacare beginning, insurers are sending cancellation notices to many of the estimated 14 million Americans who buy their own insurance. The terminations are occurring because current polices are no longer comprehensive enough to match what the federal government has deemed the ”minimum standards” under Obamacare.

Kaiser Permanente will void polices for 160,000 Californians on Jan. 1 while Blue Shield of California sent termination letters to 119,000 customers. At least 300,000 Floridians are losing coverage as well as 146,000 Michigan residents. More than 800,000 individuals, many of them small-business owners, will be affected in New Jersey.

Most of these middle-class Americans are getting squeezed by Obamacare because they don’t get employer-provided insurance and they make too much money to qualify for government subsidies. Many may choose to pay the fine for not having insurance since it will be cheaper than the increased rates. Such decisions will inflate premiums even more for those buying polices.

Jim White, a high-school math teacher and coach, is afraid this will lead to the collapse of the insurance industry and the creation of a single payer system run by the government. “This is not about providing health insurance,” he said. “It’s about growing the government. If they have control of your healthcare then they have control of you.”

Already most of those using Obamacare are treating it as a new entitlement: 82 percent of new enrollments for Obamacare in Kentucky and 87 percent in Washington are for coverage through Medicaid instead of the offered exchanges.

The sticker shock for millions came after an already turbulent rollout of Obamacare. On Oct. 1, the date of Obamacare’s launch, the president said that buying health insurance under the program’s website would be as simple as when you “shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.”

Instead the system was far from ready: The few users able even to log on to the site have been plagued with long delays, bugs, crashes, and error messages. Attempts to register by everyone from reporters on live television to the Wyoming insurance commissioner all ended in failure. Contractors testified at congressional hearings that testing on the complex website didn’t commence until two weeks before the start date. As a result, a website costing about $500 million to develop crashed shortly after midnight on Oct. 1 with about 2,000 people trying to use it.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said a visit to the website made a trip to the DMV seem pleasant. But this time it’s not just Republicans bashing Obama’s signature law. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was among Democrats calling the rollout a “disaster.”

Obamacare supporters first dubbed the problems as glitches, but the truth is closer to chaos; and the combination of cancelled policies, price-gouging rates, and a useless website has Democratic lawmakers, especially in conservative-leaning states, starting to speak out.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wants a one-year delay on the penalty for not buying insurance. At least 10 Senate Democrats, including those seeking reelection in states that Obama lost in 2012 such as Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, are asking the Obama administration to postpone the March 31 deadline for Obamacare sign-up.

These voices remained silent during the GOP-led push to defund or delay Obamacare leading up to the recent government shutdown. But these Democrats are feeling the constituent pressure now. Obama may not be able to ignore such fretting from within his own party. Meanwhile Sen. Ron Johnson, R.-Wis., is introducing a bill allowing people to keep their current plan despite Obamacare’s mandates. The GOP is hoping voters remember them as the anti-Obamacare party.

“I really don’t like Republican tactics,” Obama supporter Tom Waschura of California recently told the San Jose Mercury News after learning his insurance plan would increase by $10,000 annually. “But at least now I can understand why they are so mad about this.”


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