Going into the 2012 election season many critics of President Barack Obama are lashing out at the Chief Executive’s recent claim that he has achieved 60 percent of his campaign promises. According to a report by ABC News, during a private fundraising event in Los Angeles on October 24, 2011, the president said, “I keep a checklist in my desk, and I kind of see, all right, I made a bunch of these promises during the campaign . . . we’ve got about 60 percent done in three years.” A recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation would indicate, however, that at least in the area of health care reform, the presidential math is lacking.
2009 Campaign Promises on Health Care Reform
During his campaign, Obama promised three major aspects of health care reform:
- affordable, portable, high-quality health coverage for all Americans,
- new initiatives in the fight against AIDS and autism, and
- lower costs across the boards in the U.S. health system, including those for prescription medications.
The Kaiser Family Foundation / Health Research & Educational Trust, however, which annually surveys health benefits in the U.S., found that premiums skyrocketed 9 percent in 2011, which was triple the rate of inflation and the highest increase since 2005. The figures paint a sharp contrast to the optimistic picture the White House draws on the success of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010
The major points of the health care law would, among other specific provisions:
- require all citizens and legal residents to carry health insurance coverage,
- create American Health Benefit Exchanges in each state with premium and cost-sharing credits for those with an income 133-400% of the federal poverty level ($18,310 for a family of three),
- create separate exchanges for small businesses to purchase coverage,
- expand Medicaid to 133% of the federal poverty law.
In 2010, the specific provisions of the law that took effect included:
- expanding coverage on parental plans to children up to the age of 26,
- providing a $250 rebate to Medicare recipients to close the “doughnut” hole in their health coverage,
- banning insurers from excluding coverage to children for pre-existing conditions,
- making high-risk insurance pools available to adults with pre-existing conditions until the health care exchanges are in operation,
- preventing insurers from placing annual and lifetime limits on coverage,
- requiring all new health insurance plans to supply coverage for preventive health care with no out-of-pocket expenses
- and allowing small businesses with fewer than 50 employees to claim eligibility for a tax credit of 35% of their health insurance premiums climbing to 50% in 2014.
In 2011, additional health care reform provisions were activated including:
- free once-a-year wellness visits for Medicare recipients,
- the inclusions of preventive health care in all new Medicare plans with no out-of-pocket expenses.
- new discounts of 50% on brand name drugs for seniors enrolled in a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan,
- raising the penalty tax on distributions from Health Savings Accounts before age 65 from 10 to 20%,
- an increase in the Medicare payroll tax for those earning $200,000 as individuals or $250,000 for joint filers from 1.45% to 2.35%.
No major provisions of health care reform are set to engage during the 2012 election year, creating an even riper opportunity for critics to judge exactly what these changes have done for Americans. The Kaiser study points to more harm than good.
In Response to Health Care Reform, Costs Skyrocketed in 2010
Currently the average health care premium for employers in the U.S. is $10,944 and $4,129 for workers for a total $15,073. Premiums jumped 8 percent for single Americans. For workers-only coverage, the average employee has seen an annual increase in their health insurance costs of $452 per month.
In a story for ABC News by Jake Tapper on September 29, 2011 a specific example was drawn for workers at the Flora Venture Flower shop in Newmarket, NH. Citing a campaign pledge Obama made to create a health care plan that would save the average family $2,500 on health premiums, the Flora Venture employees saw a 41 percent increase in their premiums in 2010.
When Tapper queried the White House for a response to those figures, the deputy chief of staff, Nancy-Ann DeParle made what can only be a disheartening statement for Americans who have endured three years of recession and struggled against a near 10 percent unemployment rate. “Many of the changes in the Affordable Care Act are starting this year, and in succeeding years, and by 2019 we estimate that the average family will save around $2000.”
What Rising Health Care and Insurance Costs Mean in an Election Year
As Americans ponder their political choices for the 2012 election season, a promised improvement seven years in the future is not what the average voter wants to hear. Nor did DeParle’s follow-up comment suggest that health care reform has, indeed, been a success. She said, “the big increases that occurred last year were probably driven by insurance plans over-estimating what the impact would be and maybe trying to take some profits upfront before some of the changes in the Affordable Care Act occur.”
Insurance companies exist to make money, and across the boards openly opposed the Obama health care reform initiative. Without question insurers have taken, and will continue to take steps to preserve their profit base, just as many businesses are dropping health care benefits for workers altogether because they cannot afford the premiums. This situation has ensured that repealing what is now popularly known as “Obamacare” will be a central point of debate in the 2012 election, with many of the President’s promises from 2009 likely coming back to haunt him.