Here We Go … Another Round of Numbers!

I wrote a blog post more than a month ago about the way numbers can be manipulated by government, media, or anyone else who wants to get in on the act to promote a particular point of view, and nowhere has that been more evident than with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, especially in the midst of efforts by the Republicans to repeal and replace the sputtering law.

In my previous post, I dealt with how many people had been touting the “success” of the ACA because it had supposedly provided insurance coverage for an additional 20 million people, which gave President Barack Obama’s administration the opportunity to pat themselves on the back. However, my post also pointed out that the coverage of  20 million more people was inaccurate, according to most counts, and in fact, no counts on people covered by the ACA reached the 20- million mark as far as I could see. Although one estimate by the Rand Corporation of the people “newly covered” by the law placed the original number at 22.8 million, but then had also calculated that approximately 5.9 million people had also lost their “coverage” as a result of the law. This brought the grand total of newly covered people under Obamacare to approximately 16.9 million, quite a bit under the touted 20 million.

Where is the logic here?

The newest twist in numbers totally mystifies me, but if you read its details it is not as dramatic as one would think.

As Congress and President Donald Trump unsuccessfully attempted to pass the American Health Care Act last month, the Congressional Budget Office, which is supposed to be non-partisan, released some interesting figures regarding the anticipated effects of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

An article entitled “The GOP’s Obamacare Replacement Is Going to Disproportionately Affect One Group,” by Lydia Ramsey and Andy Kiersz (1), reported that when the CBO released its report on the effects of the American Health Care Act, the agency estimated that “24 million more people could be uninsured.”

I had an immediate question – 24 million MORE than what? More than the number of people who remain uninsured despite of or because of Obamacare? The article simply does provide any details on that.

Then a CNN report entitled “CBO Report: 24 Million Fewer Insured by 2026 under GOP Health Care Bill.” by M.J. Lee and Tami Luhby (2), stated that there would be 24 million fewer insured people in the United States by the year 2026, which is less than nine years from now. This article also said that as many as 14 million fewer people could be insured by next year if Obamacare is repealed and replaced by the AHCA.

As I mentioned earlier, none of the counts for the number of people who were actually “covered” by insurance under Obamacare ever reached as many as 20 million, much less 24 million. Now this is only the fourth year that Obamacare has been in place, and maybe many more people would have enrolled in the years to come, but maybe NOT because several large insurance companies were pulling out of the exchanges as the result of large losses blamed on the ACA.

There are too many unknown factors to make any real predictions.

One crucial point in all these rather bizarre estimations sticks out in my mind. How can the CBO, or anyone else, accurately predict what may happen in both the individual and employer-sponsored insurance markets over the course of 9-10 years? There are just too many unknown factors. For instance there are several policy areas that could change drastically over that time period that would allow for people to get different insurance plans that fit their needs better.

Here are a few policies that, if enacted, might cause the loss of insurance coverage under our customary insurance models for the last 30 years or so, but may result in a much wider variety of insurance plans being offered, as well as more individualized methods of providing for health care needs such as larger amounts in Health Savings Accounts.

  • The formation of high risk pools in every state that enable the chronically ill to buy insurance for their needs at affordable rates.
  • Making tax credits that have only been available to employers available to all citizens so people can decide whether they want to buy insurance through their employer or buy an insurance policy more suitable to their own needs in the individual market – either way the tax advantages would be roughly the same.
  • The removal of all mandates to buy insurance, including the essential benefit mandates that only served to drive up the costs of premiums for many people because a number of benefits had to be covered. This flexibility could enable people to buy truly catastrophic plans that they feel would meet their needs.
  • Increasing the annual amount allowable, by tax law, to add to health savings accounts as well as not requiring that they be tied to a high-deductible insurance plan.
  • Removing the tax-exempt status of most “non-profit” hospitals. This is one that I have not read or heard about anyone proposing yet, but it would go a long way in making health care providers (especially hospitals) actually have to compete for patients by lowering costs and improving the quality of care with real quality measures rather than useless government-mandated measures.

So while many people wave various and assorted numbers around to catastrophize anything our current national leadership does to restore a functioning health/medical care system, there are opportunities for people to come out of the whole mess with a much better deal than they have now, especially with the continued proliferation of innovative free market practice models designed to lower overall health costs.

Further reading:

  1. http://www.businessinsider.com/cbo-chart-on-how-healthcare-costs-could-change-under-ahca-2017-3
  2. http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/13/politics/cbo-report-health-care/

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