NCW Health is a weekly column featuring healthcare and insurance coverage in North Central Washington — what’s working, what’s not, and what’s changing. Call Wenatchee World reporter K.C. Mehaffey with your experiences.
NCW — It’s been a little more than six weeks since I launched this column focusing on healthcare in North Central Washington. So far, I’ve written mostly about the prospect of repealing the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with the American Health Care Act, and how those actions may impact the region.
And I’ve gotten a lot more feedback on this column than pretty much anything else I write.
Some readers tell me that Obamacare basically saved their lives, or the life of someone they know. Others say it is not perfect, but it’s better than the system we had before, and it’s far better than the current proposal by Republicans. Others write that the Affordable Care Act is not working, and that young or middle-class Americans have been penalized by being forced to buy insurance that they can’t afford. One wanted to know why I wasn’t reporting the lies that Obama told about the ACA seven years ago, when people were assured they could keep the insurance they had.
Here are just some of the opinions and ideas that readers have shared with me.
The ACA is too costly
Bill Riley in Soap Lake tells me that he has a 45-year-old niece in Arizona who is married and has four children. She is a waitress, and her husband a self-employed tile layer. Their policy through Obamacare costs $1,100 a month, with a $10,000 deductible. That means that — except for preventive care — almost none of their healthcare costs are paid until they meet their out-of-pocket annual expense of $23,000.
“They are all US born with SS Cards,” he writes. “Meanwhile a non-citizen with an ITIN number and low reportable income can qualify for free insurance paid for by, you guessed it, hard working Americans.”
Reporting is unbalanced
One reader, who didn’t provide a name, emailed me that my story on Thursday covering a news conference with Gov. Jay Inslee and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler was one-sided, and didn’t seek balance. The writer provided this link to a news release from State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax — the ranking Republican on the state House Health Care Committee. Schmick says that the Affordable Care Act has led to escalating health insurance premiums, fewer health choices for patients, and companies leaving exchanges.
Inslee, Schmick points out, voted for the Act while he was in Congress, and is now “doubling down on this failed system and is now promoting information that, at best, is incomplete,” the news release says.
He finds these benefits to the GOP’s Plan: “First, it would encourage free markets and fair competition, which would lower health care costs. Second, it would provide tax relief to every American. Third, it would continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions. Fourth, it would return power back to the states and provide them with more flexibility for innovation, rather than having the other Washington dictate how individuals purchase their own health care. Finally, it would be fiscally responsible and reduce the federal deficit.”
ACA is unfair to youth
One writer suggested that I missed the point with my reporting on what the AARP is calling an age tax in the Republican proposal. In reality, the writer says, Obamacare is an aging tax on the young by requiring healthy people to sign up, thereby subsidizing care for older Americans.
“Whether it be by accumulating massive debt for younger generations to pay off or by collecting on Social Security benefits they did not fully fund, the baby boomer generation is soaking the youth in America. There is no way younger generations will reap the same benefits the older generations are currently enjoying without paying substantially more in Social Security taxes.”
Another reader, who helped found the Concerned Actuaries Group, called to say how — just a couple of weeks before the ACA passed — some policy makers refused to support it without a provision that limits the premiums that older people can be charged for premiums to three times the rate that young policyholders pay.
“And then they wonder why the youth isn’t signing up,” he said, adding policy makers should be asking whether it’s right to have one age group basically subsidizing another for healthcare costs.
The ACA prevented permanent disability
Mary White, a 52-year-old Cashmere attorney and single mother, says she has a medical condition which would have left her disabled if left untreated. Because her preexisting condition did not kick her off the insurance rolls, she was able to get a very costly operation. She is now a productive member of society. She works full time, and plays ice hockey, lifts weights, practices yoga, goes for walks.
White worries that her Congressman, Dave Reichert, hasn’t offered any explanation about why he supports the new American Health Care Act, especially since so many mainstream, data-driven medical organizations are broadly opposing it.
The GOP plan, she worries, “will cost more than the existing plan in human suffering and dollars, as the vulnerable lose coverage, and the coverage that is available is narrowed and becomes costlier for all but the wealthiest.” White says that the mandate to buy health insurance is part of the social contract. We all have to buy car insurance to drive a car. “Obtaining affordable insurance is the moral and social obligation of adult citizens; doing so guarantees they will not get insufficient care, and/or become freeloaders as a result of unexpected accident, injury, illness or other personal catastrophe.”
Oh, and she appreciates how local town hall meetings have been very respectful, regardless of what side of the debate you’re on.
Some readers have simply written to thank me for writing about such an important topic, which inspires conversation and debate. That’s how solutions might be found.
One wrote to say that he wishes people could think about what they really want from a common-sense, grassroots perspective. Perhaps another Wildfires & Us forum in Wenatchee, only this time on the healthcare theme. And maybe on immigration, or the environment, too. “I believe what people around here would agree on would be embraced by many other communities,” he wrote. “It would be great of consensus could be found, publicized and passed on. Maybe the wisdom of it could spread across other rural communities.”
And urban ones, too.