By Glynn Wilson –
While the House Republicans were celebrating in the White House Rose Garden after the vote to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare on Thursday, it would have been interesting to be a fly on a bush. Did any of them even whisper a hint about the massive voter backlash that was already exploding on social media against them for their vote and their party?
The hashtag #IAmAPreexistingCondition had already taken over the Twitter and Facebook news feeds with more than 100,000 posts within minutes after the vote.
One of the most popular provisions that helped President Barack Obama and the Democrats pass the Affordable Care Act was the prohibition against insurance companies denying people coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Even though the reporting and activism around the bill’s actual effect on that in reality may be misleading, changes to that provision that allows states to opt out and provide alternative pool coverage for high risk patients fed the political perception that the law was going away, giving Democrats a major opening in the run up to the midterm elections in 2018.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already started running digital ads warning that the legislation would leave “no more protections” for people with a history of illness or injury. Democratic Party leaders announced they would make pre-existing conditions an issue in every congressional race in the country.
Activist groups on the political left began posting graphics on Facebook listing pre-existing conditions that would no longer be covered, with hundreds of thousands of likes, shares and comments. Many were exaggerations, such as a claim circulating widely from a group called The People for Bernie Sanders that listed nearly 100 conditions, from AIDS to ulcers, asthma and cancer, that said Republicans had voted “to end your health care.”
Yet Democrats and health care advocates will be using that provision as a rallying cry, warning that it could inflict punishing costs on people with those ailments.
While the new law in reality does not totally remove the provision, and Republican Congressmen such as Bradley Byrne of Mobile Alabama were going around on Friday telling people it is still in the law and no one will be worse off because of it, it is not clear the Trump administration can successfully counter the criticism using 140 characters on Twitter.
In a contradictory political statement posted on his Facebook page, Byrne made the blanket statement that this bill “will help lower costs for Alabama families while still ensuring protections for those with pre-existing conditions. It also cuts taxes, gets the federal government out of the way, and ends government mandates. The federal government should not be telling people what type of health care they should have.”
But when I caught up with Byrne on Friday at a party for Alabama’s 200th birthday on the Mobile River, he said the federal mandate to prevent insurance companies from denying people coverage with preexisting conditions is still the law of the land.
“We actually have all the protections right now today for people with preexisting conditions,” Byrne said (See video). “The present language that says an insurer has to provide insurance to you regardless of preexisting conditions is in the law still.”
“But if a state wants to setup a high risk pool they could go to the high risk pool,” he added. The law provides $8 billion the states could draw from to fund that.
“In some states, prior to the ACA, people that were on high risk insurance — people in these pools — were paying less money than they are paying today under Obamacare for their health insurance premiums,” Byrne said.
The problem in states such as Alabama where the governor and legislature never took the $1 billion a year from the federal government to subsidize Medicaid to cover nearly every sick, poor person, every child without insurance and the elderly — and where there is no competition with only one company such as Blue Cross Blue Shield to provide insurance — the state has struggled to find the money to cover Medicaid and the private insurance premiums have been criticized as too high.
Another problem was that the House voted to repeal the existing law and replace it with a new law demanded by President Trump without taking the time to read and debate the bill or wait for an independent assessment of its impacts from the Congressional Budget Office. The House has been accused of voting to hand Trump a legislative victory knowing the bill has major problems that will have to be fixed by the U.S. Senate.
But when asked about that, Byrne brushed it off and talked about a bill passed in the House about a month ago that supposedly removed federal provisions in the ACA that protected insurance companies against lawsuits under anti-trust laws. This is supposed to foster competition in the market, he said, although there is no evidence that it has had any effect, yet. And he claimed another law should be passed in the next few weeks that will allow anybody to buy health insurance across state lines, even online.
“If you put real nationwide competition up there, that helps everybody,” he said.
But there are states such as Tennessee where there are whole swaths of the state not covered by any insurance company now. Byrne said that was because an insurance company can’t operate in the state without going through the Tennessee Insurance Commission.
Sounds like states rights, eh?
“We’re going to override that through the federal law so that you and I can buy our health insurance the same way we can buy auto insurance,” Byrne said. “Everybody sees the television ads for auto insurance. We’re going to be able to do the same thing with health insurance. We’re trying to get as much competition in this market as we can.”
But don’t go searching for the Geico lizard for health insurance just yet. When asked what he expects to see in the version of the bill after the Senate takes it up, he said: “Their going to make some changes to it.”
As for the party at the White House, Byrne said he had never been in the Rose Garden before.
“It was kind of fun,” he said.
If the Democrats, the Republicans or independents can find someone to run against Bryne, his reelection bid in 2018 may not be so fun.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.