Editorial: Disappointing votes from Kuster, Shea-Porter
Because the last Legislature blocked New Hampshire’s ability to create its own health-care exchange, residents are forced to use the federal version – the one with the sickly website. So far, there’s only a single New Hampshire insurer participating in the Affordable Care Act “marketplace.” And that player, Anthem, has created a narrow network of eligible providers that excludes 10 of the state’s 26 hospitals, including Concord Hospital. On top of all that, thousands of people have received insurance cancellation notices, even after being promised by President Obama that if they liked their existing plans, they could keep them. Other residents, those who might qualify for the expanded version of Medicaid recommended by the federal government, have been told they can’t get it because the state government hasn’t approved it – though, with luck, that will change this week.
It’s a mess, all right. So it’s little wonder that Democrats like U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter are under big-time pressure from constituents unhappy with Obamacare – and just as they’re starting to think about the 2014 elections.
Nonetheless, it was disappointing to see both New Hampshire congresswomen vote last week in favor of a Republican measure to unravel one of the key components of the new health care law.
At issue is a measure called the “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013.” It goes significantly further than the concession made last week by President Obama. First, it allows insurers to continue selling health plans available on the market now, even if they don’t meet Obamacare standards for benefits, pricing and availability. Second, it allows any policy sold to satisfy the requirement that every American carry comprehensive insurance or pay a fee.
In practical terms, that means insurers would not be prevented from refusing coverage to customers with pre-existing conditions. They could charge higher prices to sick people. They could offer plans that don’t cover such basics as prescription drugs or maternity care or mental health and substance abuse treatment. They wouldn’t have to cover preventive services at no cost to enrollees. And they wouldn’t have to comply with Obamacare limits on out-of-pocket costs – meaning patients could still face crushing health-care bills.
If younger, healthier people opted for these cheaper, skimpier plans, how would the exchanges manage to offer lower costs? Chances are, without a critical mass of participants, they wouldn’t.
Is this really what Kuster and Shea-Porter had in mind?
The bill, of course, is unlikely to go too far. The Senate doesn’t like it, and President Obama has threatened a veto. Still it is a measure of the pressure Democrats find themselves under that 39 in the House were willing to vote “yes” on such a scheme to send a message to both the president and their constituents.
Despite its discouraging rollout, the principals behind the Affordable Care Act remain sound. Unraveling the law with no replacement in mind makes no sense. There’s little doubt that the Republicans hoping to beat Kuster and Shea-Porter next fall will use Obamacare in their campaigns. The proper response from Democratic candidates – and from voters of all stripes: Got something better?