Give Dean Cameron credit for having the party talking points down pat, as demonstrated in his May 31 commentary on Obamacare. The director of the Idaho Department of Insurance states that criticism of the repeal-and-replace Republican health care plan “is incomplete, misleading or inaccurate.” When examining the facts, however, one can only conclude “incomplete,” “misleading” and “inaccurate” best describe the essence of Cameron’s message.
It is misleading to lament the lack of insurance carriers in Idaho without acknowledging the role of Idaho’s legislators in creating this condition. A small state like Idaho cannot afford to limit its market. But when the Supreme Court ruled states weren’t required to expand Medicaid, many red states including Idaho chose, out of political spite, not to. Because insurance profitability is predicated in large part on pool size, the smaller number of insured has translated into less incentive for carriers to come to Idaho. This decision meant that 70,000 Idahoans who could have had health insurance did not. It also meant that thousands of jobs that could have been created were not. In addition, the present day uncertainty created in the insurance market by Republicans and the Trump administration has been damaging. The Trump administration is threatening to withhold crucial payments to insurance companies that subsidize premiums for those in need.
It is inaccurate when Cameron claims “every Idaho insurance carrier continues to lose millions of dollars in the individual health insurance market.” Let’s take a look at UnitedHealth, one of those leaving the market. They claim Obamacare meant a loss of $850 million. This, however, was an amount they projected they could have otherwise earned. They still had record profits. For the year ending in 2016, UnitedHealth enjoyed $184.8 billion in revenues, an increase of $27.7 billion from the previous year. Their CEO, Steven Hemsley, made over $31 million in 2016. This was down from the $66 million he made in 2014. Unfortunately, in Idaho we do not know what CEOs for carriers such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield make. Idaho law does not require them to disclose that.
It is certainly incomplete when Republicans fail to state their true intention. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 23 million Americans would lose their health insurance under the Republican plan. At the same time large tax cuts are granted to the already wealthy. Warren Buffet states that repealing Obamacare is “a huge tax cut for guys like me.” Buffet goes on to explain, “Anybody with $250,000 a year of adjusted gross income and lots of investment income is going to have a huge tax cut.” I think it is time for supporters of the American Health Care Act to come clean and own what they are proposing. Instead of hiding behind meaningless phrases like “more choices” and “lower premiums,” just go ahead and say it: You prefer to deny health care to millions of people so you can provide tax breaks for the wealthy. That is deplorable, but at least it is truthful.
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Dale Merrell is a retired teacher and often volunteers in the public schools. He hopes to leave a world where his two granddaughters and other children can flourish.