The Affordable Care Act—Improve It, But Keep It!

In one week’s time the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, is set to begin. In each of the three previous enrollment periods the number of participants enrolled has increased, leading to what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports as 12.7 million people receiving healthcare coverage due to the program.  The Health and Human Services Secretary, Sylvia Burwell is projecting enrollment of 13.8 million people by the end of open enrollment on Jan. 31, 2017. But as we head into the 2017 open enrollment period, one of the most noted issues related to the ACA program is the projected increase in plan discontinuances.

Although many opponents of the ACA have attempted to blame the federal government, President Obama, or the structure of the program as the cause of the discontinuations, experts say that truly they are due to health insurance companies simply choosing not to update some of their plans for the ACA marketplace.  This refusal will lead to millions of Americans losing their longtime health plans, forcing them to seek out new plans, along with new primary care physicians in many cases. The health insurers use a time honored reason for not upgrading their plans—money!!  The insurers generally state that they are losing money by providing the ACA plans given the advanced and complicated illnesses of those who sign up for ACA coverages. However, the same companies do not readily mention that in general they are seeing annual profits for their companies even in the presence of their reported ACA related losses.

According to Bloomberg, “at least 1.4 million people in 32 states will be looking for new healthcare plans this year because their old plans will cease to exist after Dec. 31, 2016.” Although this high number of people who will be losing their plans is touted loudly by opponents of the health care program, it is important that we remember that 9 out of 10 individuals (11.1 million people) remained enrolled and paying customers of the ACA plans as of March 31, 2016 per the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Therefore, approximately 1 in 10 Obamacare enrollees are being displaced, but they will likely have another ACA related plan to join.  And, according to the federal government, due to the financial subsidies associated with the program, they will likely not have to pay any more than in the past even if the new plan costs more than their old plan.

Given the successes of the ACA (Obamacare) and due to the early period in its development, I am a strong believer in keeping the program and working to improve it.  After all, isn’t that what the country did with Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security?  I believe that over time, the program will prove its worth and win the acceptance of many of its detractors while continuing to have the support of those who favor it.