The country is very divided over health care reform right now, and the election season is churning up all sorts of opinions about it. There are a lot of people – including elected officials – who are still very unhappy that the PPACA passed last spring, and they are trying hard to undo all or part of it, via ballot initiatives, lawsuits, and electing new officials.
Although I’m very much in favor of debating the merits of the law based on the facts in the legislation, I find it particularly disheartening when political candidates who are opposed to health care reform talk publicly about the issue using fabricated scare tactics. When they do so at rallies and during debates, it’s likely that some of the people listening will believe what is being said without doing additional fact checking, and that’s how off-the-wall rumors get started.
Check out this article from PolitiFact, based on last night’s senatorial debate in WV. The Republican candidate, John Raese, stated that he’d like to repeal the entire PPACA, because it’s “pure, unadulterated socialism.” He also said that instead of having doctor-patient relationships, under the new law “the first person that a patient has to go to is a bureaucrat.” The fact checkers at PolitiFact gave his claims a “pants on fire” rating, and thoroughly explained why the law is not “pure, unadulterated socialism” (the option for a single payer system was rejected very early in the health care reform debates, long before the issue came up for a final vote) and that patients will still interact with their doctors the same way they always have. They also made the very good point that our health care system has always had bureaucrats involved… health insurance companies often have to provide prior authorization for non-emergency procedures, and employers can – and do – change health insurance carriers annually, which often results in new networks for employees to navigate.
There’s nothing wrong with being opposed to all or part of the health care reform law. However, it’s not factual to call the PPACA “socialism“. It’s does a disservice to voters to say that the reform law contains “death panels“. It’s not factual to say that patients will have to go to a bureaucrat before seeing his or her doctor. Spreading this sort of misinformation is truly harmful to the debate. Rather than discussing the actual facts of the law and searching for sensible solutions and compromises, fear-mongering sound bites with no basis in reality only serve to get people riled up.
Here in Colorado, there was also a senatorial debate last night, with Republican Ken Buck squaring off against Democrat Michael Bennet. Happily, that debate was much more fact-based, and both candidates agreed on many aspects of the reform law. But ultimately, Buck wants to repeal it and replace it with legislation that would use tax incentives to encourage people to buy their own health insurance, and use health savings accounts (HSAs) to save money for care. The problem with that strategy is that it just doesn’t reach everyone. Tax incentives tend to work better for people who are already well-off, and HSAs are already widely available. HSA qualified high deductible health insurance policies are popular with our clients, but only about half of our clients who apply for HSA qualified health insurance have an interest in setting up a health savings account. Many people are simply drawn to the lower premiums that the high deductible policies offer, and end up being financially unprepared if and when they need to meet their deductibles. So although we’re big fans of high deductible health insurance and HSAs, we understand that it’s not a viable solution for everyone, and some families simply cannot afford to pay for health insurance and also fund an HSA. In addition, high deductible policies tend to work much better for people who are healthy and rarely need medical care. Those who are chronically ill and incurring large medical expenses year after year would likely find it difficult to come up with the out of pocket costs associated with an HSA qualified plan.
Although I’m not sure that the model proposed by candidate Buck would actually work to make health care more universally accessible for the people of Colorado, I do appreciate the fact that he didn’t talk about death panels or bureaucrats that patients would need to go to before seeing their doctors.