By Chris Jennewein
The Republican Party’s upcoming “feel good” repeal of the Affordable Care Act will likely end in a painful hangover for the insurance industry and many Californians.
Republicans are lined up to repeal the act, more popularly known as “Obamacare,” and sometime later — maybe as long as four years from now — replace it. In the interim, premiums are likely to rise, portions of the insurance market collapse and millions of people lose coverage.
The first part of Obamacare likely to go is the key part — the individual mandate. This requires individuals to have medical insurance, and companies to provide it to employees.
Republicans call it socialism, but the mandate is key to funding health insurance in today’s complex world of expensive but life-saving medical care.
The point of insurance is to protect yourself from something you don’t expect. Healthy people need medical insurance just like good drivers need auto insurance. Bad things can happen.
Nevertheless, tens of millions of Americans have always gone without insurance because of its cost or because they believed they didn’t need it. By requiring everyone to have insurance, or pay a tax penalty, Obamacare increased the size of the medical insurance pool, allowing more people to be covered.
Without the individual mandate, we’ll return to the old way — the uninsured bankrupt themselves, or their families, or show up at emergency rooms and hope the local community will pay.
Obamacare required Americans to step up and take responsibility for their health care by paying for it up front. Repealing Obamacare takes us back to rolling the dice. And the warnings are growing.
Last month the American Hospital Association said that repealing Obamacare without a replacement would cost hospitals nearly $166 billion over 10 years. “Losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained and will adversely impact patients’ access to care,” the trade group warned.
On Monday, the American Medical Association wrote to Congressional leaders urging them to “lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies” and warning “it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.”
Adding perversity to the repeal is the possibility that the Republicans will keep the popular Obamacare provision that requires insurers to cover those with pre-existing medical conditions. That means you won’t need to buy insurance until you get sick. For the health insurance industry, this would create financial Armageddon. That’s because insurance only works if people pay for it when they don’t need it — as the unpopular individual mandate requires.
Donald Trump campaigned against Obamacare, but carefully added that “it is not enough to simply repeal this terrible legislation. We will work with Congress to make sure we have a series of reforms ready for implementation…that will broaden healthcare access.”
That makes good practical, sense, but Obamacare may be repealed even before Trump takes the oath of office.
So if you don’t have medical insurance now, it’s time to hurry up and apply. At least you’ll have coverage for the next 12 months.
Chris Jennewein is editor & publisher of Times of San Diego.
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