In the News: Blog

People with costly chronic medical conditions are getting health coverage thanks to Obamacare, the New York Times reports – but they’re finding they can barely afford the high deductibles.

“Patricia Wanderlich got insurance through the Affordable Care Act this year, and with good reason: She suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit, and has a second, smaller aneurysm that needs monitoring.

“But her new plan has a $6,000 annual deductible, meaning that Ms. Wanderlich, who works part time at a landscaping company outside Chicago, has to pay for most of her medical services up to that amount. She is skipping this year’s brain scan and hoping for the best.

“ ‘To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?’ said Ms. Wanderlich, 61. ‘I don’t have that money.’”

The deductibles are the trade-off for not seeing premiums that are even higher, insurers say. “Insurers must cover certain preventive services, like immunizations, cholesterol checks and screening for breast and colon cancer, at no cost to the consumer if the provider is in their network,” the paper reports. Those underlying high costs have to be covered somehow. Obamacare did not repeal that reality.

“Carol Payne, a respiratory therapist in Gilbert, Ariz., signed up through HealthCare.gov for a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan with a $6,000 deductible. She pays $91 toward her monthly premium and gets a subsidy of $353 to cover the rest.

“The plans she could have chosen with lower deductibles were from insurers that ‘were not as reputable,’ Ms. Payne said. She has used the insurance for preventive care and an emergency room visit after a car accident.

“ ‘I’m just doing what I can to keep myself healthy,’ she added. ‘I mean, $6,000 — do they think I’ve just got that under my mattress?’

The story ends with Ms. Wanderlich wondering, “How many minutes until I get Medicare?” – the government-subsidized plan for senior citizens. But when Americans ask that question more broadly, it just transfers the matter of cost: Medicare last year paid out about $380 billion more in benefits than it took in from the payroll tax, according to the Treasury. Medicare Part B premiums amounted to about $96 billion. The rest of the cost had to be made up by other taxpayers.

Over the next 30 years, Medicare’s expected benefits will exceed the payroll tax from future recipients by about $35,000 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s data. So the question of whether health care is affordable becomes one for every one of our children and grandchildren then stuck paying the bill.

This story shows an underlying truth: Obamacare, the “Affordable Care Act,” does nothing to make health care less costly. At best, it transfers some costs, but in ways that are only now becoming clear.

Instead of increasing the role of the free market in health care, it increases the role of government and its regulation. Obamacare intensifies the trend of the past half century, of increased government involvement and costs that rise faster than inflation. That is where real reform needs to start, and that alone is what can bring down the underlying cost of health care, making it more affordable for everyone.