Had one of those days when the news actually mattered.
Started out with a busted furnace and an amiable repair guy — hardworking, conscientious, struggling to make ends meet, full of layered, enthusiastic knowledge concerning the inner workings of heaters. He fiddled with the beast, bringing it back to life, making it purr. I watched intently for awhile — feeling reassured that I couldn’t possibly have made the darn thing work myself. He shifted his position, due to the long-time injury to his back. That somehow led to a conversation about health insurance.
Turns out, he’s a great example of the dark side of Obamacare — and the law of unintended consequences.
An initially little-noted provision of the ambitious effort to make insurance available to an additional 32 million Americans requires businesses with more than 50 workers to pay a penalty if they don’t provide insurance to full time employees — then defines “full time” as working an average of more than 30 hours a week.
So the heater repair guy said the edict has gone out: None of the repair guys can work more than 32 hours in any given week.
He says that the company has sharply reduced the hours everyone can work. He’s afraid he’s going to lose his house.
Now, before you jump to any conclusions — listen what happened next.
I trundled on over to KMOG, where I do a weekly stint on the Forum with Stephanie Landers.
One of the first callers said he’d gone onto the federal Web site to check out the insurance options, although he had little hope he’d find anything. To his surprise, he had no trouble getting through, filling out an application, providing the information — and finding a host of insurance options. Right now, he said he and his wife are paying something like $11,000 annually for insurance — with a $5,000 deductible. Turns out, the best policy he could find on the Web site would cost about $12,000, with a $3,000 deductible. However, based on his income — he’ll qualify for an $9,000 premium subsidy. So he’ll end up saving a huge amount of money for a more comprehensive policy.
He sounded somewhere between bemused and delighted — given all the horror stories he’s been hearing.
The two stories illustrated the terrible breakdown of our political culture these past few years. One side puts up a flawed, ambitious, desperately needed reform — complete with unintended consequences. The other side devotes its entire energy to demonizing the other side and predicting disaster — without making any effort at all to instead fix the flaws — things like giving employers an incentive to cut everybody back to part-time work.
Out in the world where an estimated 65,000 Americans die annually for lack of health insurance, people are starting to find their way to the Web site, which apparently no longer suffers from the disastrous glitches opponents so gleefully jumped on. The pace of the applications has picked up significantly since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services worked out the most galling problems with the Web site. An estimated 20 percent of Arizona residents lack medical insurance, but the great majority of those will likely be eligible for free or reduced-price health insurance through the exchange.
After the early pitfalls and lockups, the federal healthcare.gov has now logged 39 million visitors. An estimated 48 million Americans currently lack insurance.
Meanwhile, opponents continue to rail against the program and seek to turn its shortcomings to political advantage.
The Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn an “assessment” imposed on mostly willing hospitals to cover state costs associated with the expansion of AHCCCS as part of the federal reforms. The feds will pay all the costs of that expansion initially, so the extra money paid by the hospitals will actually bolster state coffers. The hospitals mostly supported the assessment since extending health care coverage to so many Arizona residents should drastically reduce hospital’s bad debt for treating uninsured patients.
However, the Goldwater Institute maintains that the assessment was really a tax — and therefore needed the approval of a two-thirds majority of the state legislature under the terms of the voter-approved Proposition 108.
Meanwhile, opponents keep staging symbolic votes, shutting down the government, putting out hysterical press releases and refusing to grapple with either the deadly number of people without insurance — or the ruinous cost of insurance for those who do.
A Bloomberg study rated the United States 46th in the world in terms of efficiency — behind Romania and Iran. The International Federation of Health Plans compared the costs of various procedures in 25 countries and produced shocking results — at least for Americans. A routine office visit cost $10 in Argentina, $38 in Chile and $176 in the U.S. An angiogram: $35 in Canada, $264 in France and $2,400 here. A day in the hospital: $429 in Argentina, $1,472 in Australia and between $4,287 and $12,535 in the U.S. The U.S. spends 20 percent of its enormous Gross Domestic Product on healthcare — far more than almost any other country.
So instead of playing political games trying to prevent any reform at all — why not tackle the real problems?
Must make sense to the folks who have staged 50 separate votes on repealing Obamacare.
As for me, I can’t stop worrying about the heater repair guy — or feeling happy for that radio caller.