Tuesday, January 17, 2017
As Congress Plots Repeal, Former Pennsylvania Democrat Faces $784 in Monthly Premiums Under Obamacare
Before President Barack Obama signed the "Affordable" Care Act into law, he promised Americans they would have quality, affordable health care, and would be able to keep their same health insurance plans and doctors.
But in the three years since Obamacare’s exchanges opened for business, Ross Schriftman, 64, said none of those promises have come to fruition for him.
Before the health care law was implemented, Schriftman was paying $218 per month for coverage from Independence Blue Cross with a $5,000 deductible. In 1974, long before the Obamacare seed was planted, Schriftman recalled paying just $12 per month for his very first health insurance plan.
This year, though, Schriftman’s policy with Independence Blue Cross is costing him $784 per month with a $6,500 deductible. Schriftman, an insurance agent, doesn’t qualify for a subsidy.
Before the health care law was implemented and into Obamacare’s first years of existence, Schriftman, a former Democrat, deposited money throughout the year into his health savings account, or a medical savings account.
But now that his premiums have increased so substantially, the health insurance agent said he can no longer afford to put away the extra money.
And before the implementation of the health care law, Schriftman, like millions of other Americans, was told he would be able to keep his plan once Obamacare took effect.
But, also like millions of other Americans, his original $218-per-month policy with Independence Blue Cross was canceled.
Schriftman picked a new plan through Aetna, but history repeated itself, and the insurer canceled his plan. “Talk about choice,” he told The Daily Signal. “Talk about losing.”
Now, Schriftman is back where he was before Obamacare’s implementation, with a policy from Independence Blue Cross.
This time, though, some things are different. “I’m paying higher premiums. I’m paying higher taxes, and I have worse coverage,” he said.
In a statement to The Daily Signal, Paula Sunshine, chief marketing officer for Independence Blue Cross, said the insurer is working with consumers to “find the benefits that are right for them and the care they need,” but said the company also needs to “ensure a sustainable market.”
“Our rates reflect the changing market trends impacting insurers here and across the country,” Sunshine said.
Like so many Americans on both sides of the debate over Obamacare, Schriftman is watching the Republican-led Congress closely as it works on a plan to repeal and replace the health care law.
Since Obama signed Obamacare into law in 2010, GOP lawmakers have been talking about repealing it, and have voted to do so more than 60 times. But with Obama in the White House, their efforts were unsuccessful.
That changed Nov. 8, when voters elected Republican businessman Donald Trump to the White House, and the GOP retained control of both the House and the Senate.
Trump, along with many Republicans on the ballot, campaigned on repealing Obamacare. This year, they’ll finally have their shot.
GOP lawmakers have agreed to roll back much of the health care law using reconciliation, a budget tool that is especially powerful in the Senate.
There, reconciliation bills need just 51 votes to pass, and Republicans hold 52 seats in the upper chamber.
But while the GOP has come to an agreement on how to repeal Obamacare, the party is split over when to vote on its replacement—and hasn’t yet agreed on a replacement—and whether to get rid of Obamacare’s taxes immediately.
Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, are warning that repealing the law would cause 20 million Americans who gained health insurance under Obamacare to lose coverage.
And it’s a concern that has some Republicans rethinking whether repeal first, replace later is a viable strategy.
“I think it’s important that we move sooner on a replacement than later,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told The Daily Signal, “just to alleviate some of the concerns of those that may be fearful of losing their health insurance.”
Meadows said he would like to see the House move Obamacare’s repeal on a “parallel track” as a replacement, though he contends Congress will have to act on its repeal first.
“It’s important for us in the House to at least start debating the merits of a replacement plan sooner than later,” he said. “Part of that is hearing from constituents who definitely want it repealed, but there’s also a group who say they definitely want to know what they can count on when repeal takes place.”
Republican leaders said they want to have a bill repealing Obamacare on the president-elect’s desk not long after his Jan. 20 inauguration, and the Senate has already taken the first step toward dismantling the health care law through reconciliation.
But their plan has been disrupted by a group of five GOP senators attempting to delay repeal until March.
Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio offered an amendment to the budget resolution that would give House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over Obamacare until March 23 to write the legislation that would roll back the health care law.
House Republican leaders, though, are committed to moving forward with repeal.
“Without delay, we are taking action,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday. “We are putting in place the tools necessary to keep our promise on this law.”
Schriftman, who lives in Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, has been active in Democratic politics since the 1970s.
In 1974, 1976, and 2004, he ran for the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives, but ultimately decided to leave the party.
Now, Schriftman is calling on congressional Democrats to work with Republicans to craft a replacement for Obamacare, or face a continued loss of support from constituents.
“You can help craft legislation that provides real reform or you can stubbornly cling to your failed programs and force your constituents to continue suffering with high premiums, high deductibles, lack of choices, and high taxes to pay for it,” Schriftman wrote in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
He fears that if Republicans don’t repeal and replace the law, the future of health insurance under Obamacare will continue on a downhill slide.
“They’re not going to do better in 2018 if they stand in the way of reform,” Schriftman said of congressional Democrats. “If nothing changes and all they do is a little fix and keep the basic structure of Obamacare in place, where are the American people going to be in two years? What are the premiums going to be in two years? How many carriers are going to be left in two years? How many doctors are going to be really happy?”
And though he believes Republicans in Congress now have a real opportunity to repeal the law, Schriftman said he’s “anxious about some of the Republicans getting gun-shy.”
“This is their opportunity. This is it,” he said. “They either get behind fixing it, or they’re going to have even worse problems with the public. People are just so fed up.”
Did Hollywood abuse of Trump backfire?
IT ISN’T an opinion heard frequently in the famously liberal Hollywood, but sci-fi queen Zoe Saldana has spoken out against the acting community for bullying abrasive Donald Trump.
The Star Trek, Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy star — who is not a supporter of the Republican president-elect — believes insults flung at him during the race for the White House turned off much of middle America.
“We got cocky and became arrogant and we also became bullies,” the 38-year-old actress said of Trump, who has been frequently berated himself for bullying tactics, including seemingly mocking a reporter with disabilities.
“We were trying to single out a man for all these things he was doing wrong ... and that created empathy in a big group of people in America that felt bad for him and that are believing in his promises.”
Like a fish needs a treadmill
by Jeff Jacoby
ARIZONA'S JEFF FLAKE, who occupies the US Senate seat once held by Barry Goldwater, shares his famous predecessor's dismay for profligate government spending. "Let us be honest with ourselves," Goldwater wrote in 1960, when federal spending totaled $92 billion. "Broken promises are not the major cause of our trouble. Kept promises are."
That hasn't changed, as Flake points out in the introduction to "PORKémon Go," the latest in his annual Wastebook series, which each year compiles scores of examples of preposterous and wasteful federal outlays.
In 2016, federal outlays were $3.87 trillion — a budgetary metastasis that must have Goldwater spinning in his grave — yet Washington, as always, is promising to spend more.
"Politicians in both parties are pushing to further loosen bipartisan budget caps and revive the corrupt practice of earmarking tax dollars for pork projects," writes Flake. "The incoming president's agenda includes $1 trillion for infrastructure, $5 trillion in tax cuts, and nearly $500 billion more for defense."
It can be hard for taxpayers to wrap their minds around sums so vast, which is why Flake's yearly anthology of outrageous spending focuses on small but vivid illustrations of how easy it is to squander other people's money. The new Wastebook rounds up 50 fresh examples of egregious projects funded with federal dollars, and describes them with good humor, bad puns — and nearly 1,100 detailed footnotes.
Flake's cases read like excerpts from The Onion.
* At the University of California San Diego, a $560,000 stimulus grant from the National Science Foundation funded a study measuring the endurance of fish on a treadmill. The fish in question were mudskippers — amphibious creatures that can use their flippers as legs — and the researchers forced them to run on a specially designed enclosed treadmill until they collapsed from exhaustion. The study found that with higher levels of oxygen in the chamber, the mudskippers could "exercise longer and recover quicker."
* A $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health was used, in part, to analyze the partying habits of fraternity and sorority members on college campuses. The researchers' conclusions were not exactly jaw-droppers: "Members of Greek letter organizations consume higher quantities of alcohol, report more frequent drinking, and experience more alcohol-related consequences" than other students. Students at fraternity/sorority parties view drinking games "as a means to get drunk quickly and to socialize." And more alcohol is drunk on days with "high-profile athletic events."
* The Colorado Department of Transportation installed a 28-foot-tall replica of a marijuana joint on the side of a hotel in downtown Denver. The huge joint, which was made from the wreckage of a mangled car, cost $35,000. Uncle Sam picked up the tab, via funding through National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
* A barely used airport in Mascoutah, Ill. — it handles just 20 flights a week and is so deserted that its few passengers can park for free — undertook $835,000 in renovations last year. Ninety percent of the costs were absorbed by the Federal Aviation Administration. That's on top of the airport's original $313 million construction — most of which was also paid out of the federal treasury. Mascoutah, meanwhile, has never come close to making a profit: It lost $12 million in 2014.
The other 46 examples are just as fatuous, dubious, or ludicrous. Which is not to say that none of the projects has merit, nor that those who lobby for them are charlatans. The developers of a museum featuring holograms of dead comedians (Chapter 2), the investigators comparing men's and women's ability to identify different Barbie dolls (Chapter 20), and the researchers studying monkey drool (Chapter 48) can no doubt make a plausible case that what they do is beneficial in some way. Indeed, each year's Wastebook release triggers indignant protests from scientists who point out that what may seem goofy or purposeless can lead to unexpected discoveries and insights. Who knows what breakthroughs may eventually be derived from examining fish on a treadmill or how boys and girls relate to dolls?
Why can't Colorado pay for its own giant marijuana sculptures?
But that isn't the litmus test. For responsible budgeteers in Congress and the White House, the threshold issue should never be whether a given expenditure might lead to something good. It is whether the government of the United States should be the one spending the money.
Why must federal, rather than Colorado, tax dollars subsidize a gigantic sculpture of a doobie in Denver — even to promote safe driving? Why should the money to examine monkey saliva come from Washington, rather than a university endowment fund or a corporate research budget? America's national debt is about to reach a staggering milestone: Twenty. Trillion. Dollars. If even that can't persuade Congress to stop funding comedy museums and comatose airports, what can?
Flake took over the Wastebook project from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who retired after the 2014 election. Coburn's inspiration, in turn, was the late Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, who used to issue monthly Golden Fleece Awards to dumb or risible expenditures of federal money.
Proxmire, bless him, was a Democrat; Coburn and Flake are Republicans. Just as big-spending wastrels can be found in both parties, so can principled spending hawks. If only the former weren't so common, and the latter so rare.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.
Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)
Posted by JR at 1:38 AM