Those Obamacare Stories Aren’t as Scary as They Sound

One of Many Plan-Cancellation Letters

‘Tis the season to be scary — and no one is getting in the Halloween spirit more than Obamacare critics. Forget the ghost stories this year, kids. You really want to scare your friends? Tell them some health insurance stories!

Did you hear the one about Dianne Barrette from Winter Haven, Florida? Dianne used to pay $54 a month for health insurance from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. But not anymore. Under Obamacare, her plan has been cancelled…and replaced with a new plan costing $591 a month!

Then there’s the one about Allison Denijs. Allison already pays a lot for insurance. She has a preexisting condition, and her plan covers her husband and one of her two daughters. All told, it costs her $20,000 a year. But Obamacare is cancelling her plan too!

Or maybe you heard the one about Robbie and Tina Robison from Franklin, Tennessee. They too are losing their current plan. In its place, Blue Cross is offering them a new plan that costs over 50 percent more!

And they’re not alone. In Florida alone, 300,000 customers have received letters from Blue Cross and Blue Shield notifying them that they will lose their current plan in 2014. All across the country, millions of Americans are receiving the same news!

But wait. Do you notice anything strange about these scare stories? None of them tell you why they’re losing their plans.

I’ll tell you why: Because the insurance companies wanted to make those plans worse.

Back in 2010, you probably remember President Obama saying, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan, period.” He was referring to the “grandfather” clause of the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA requires that all health-insurance plans meet minimum standards. For example, they all have to cover prescription drugs, ambulatory services, mental health services, and several other categories that are currently excluded from many plans on the individual market. If you signed up for your insurance plan before the law went into effect on March 23, 2010, however, you’re exempt from this requirement. Your plan is “grandfathered” in.

Unless your plan becomes worse — say, because your insurance company wants to take away some of your coverage or raise your co-payments faster than the medical cost of inflation. In that case, it’s no longer exempt because it’s not the same plan anymore.

So, yes, you can keep your old plan. Unless the insurance company changes it. In which case it isn’t your old plan anymore.

That’s what the President meant.

In every one of those cases, the customers who lost their plans are being offered better plans — either by their current insurance carrier or on the government-run exchange.

What CBS and Fox News didn’t tell you about Dianne Barrette, for example, is that her $54-a-month plan didn’t cover hospital stays or ambulance services or brand-name drugs or…really, most of the things she’d need if she ever got really sick. Under Obamacare, she will receive coverage for all of those things.

Not so scary after all, is it?

But what about those premium increases? Those seem pretty scary…if you take the insurance company’s word for it.

After Allison Denijs appeared on Fox News, Salon reporter Eric Stern contacted her and asked if she’d found a new plan on the Obamacare exchange. She hadn’t looked yet, so Stern did it for her. He found a plan that covers her entire family — including her currently uninsured daughter — for $7,600, less than half of what her old plan cost.

Then Stern called the Robison’s. They refused to shop on the Obamacare exchange, which is a shame because Stern found a plan that they could get that would cost them 63 percent less than their old plan — and it would cover more services.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone will pay less under Obamacare, but the point of the law is to make health insurance affordable for people who need it the most. For young, healthy Americans, it may result in a slight cost increase, but we must remember why their insurance was so cheap before Obamacare came along: Because insurance companies were discriminating against the sick, excluding the most desperate and most costly customers.

Someday, when they’re not so young and healthy anymore, those Americans are going to be thankful that Obamacare is there — and that they can buy affordable health insurance that covers all the healthcare services they need. You might say Obamacare has given them one less thing to be…scared of.


An abbreviated version of this op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.