Action Alert!

Coming of (old) age under Obamacare: a rant

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 01, 2015

It’s official: As of today, I’m on Medicare.

Growing old is a nuisance, but the alternative is less desirable. And Medicare seems an attractive alternative to private health insurance—if you can overlook the fact that you have been actually paying the Medicare premiums for decades before you realize any benefit.

However, in my case, joining the Medicare rolls does not mean cutting ties with private health insurance. I still need to arrange coverage for my young wife and my much younger daughter, who is now the only child left on our family policy. Choosing a new policy for them, while wading through the flood of paperwork that accompanied my new status, has been a nightmare.

A bit of background: Even before Obamacare came into effect, we Massachusetts residents were subject to Romneycare. As a direct result of these two programs—which were allegedly designed to make health care more affordable—our monthly premiums have steadily increased, while the benefits of insurance programs steadily decreased. Meanwhile, the paperwork demands multiplied.

Three times in the past five years, our insurance company has notified us that our policy was being cancelled, because it did not meet the standards imposed by a new government program. Each time we were required to find a new program, which provided less desirable coverage at a higher cost.

(Each of the policies that were eventually cancelled involved an annual deductible, which was calculated according to the calendar year. In each case, our policy was cancelled before the year ended, and the deductible was re-set with the institution of a new policy. As it happens, this was not a factor for us; we never came close to the deductible figure. But among the hundreds of thousands of people in similar circumstances, I’m sure many found themselves paying costs that, under their original policies, would have been covered by their insurers.)

For an individual (or family) looking for health insurance, the “shopping” process is surreal. Each insurer offers dozens of different policies. To choose wisely, one must explore the details. Most insurers helpfully provide that detailed information on their web site. But the information is available only to people who request a quote—meaning that one must sign in, provide a good deal of personal information (on a clunky site that produces errors and crashes frequently), and one must then expect calls from salespeople.

In the old days, before the nanny-state stepped in, we could buy an HMO plan, pay a monthly premium, and know with a fair degree of certainty exactly how much money we would pay for medical expenses, even in the worst-case scenario. No longer. Every plan that I explored—barring those with truly exorbitant monthly premiums—involved a complicated system of deductibles and copayments and percentages of excess costs. Choosing among these programs involves comparing apples and oranges.

This process is heavily geared toward corporate employers. For a newcomer, the process of navigating the options is bewildering. Once you have learned how to do it, the process is much less intimidating. However, if you are an individual, with any luck you won’t go through the same process again for a few years, and by that time it will have changed dramatically, so you’ll be back at the bottom of the learning curve. For a corporation, it’s much easier to keep abreast of the latest options; that’s the job of the human-resources department. When I called insurance companies to ask questions, invariably the cheerful representative would suggest that I speak with the person at my business who’s in charge of health-care coverage. Unfortunately, at my business, I’m that person.

Actually the maze of health-care options is now eerily similar to the American tax code. An accountant, lawyer, or professional tax preparer has a fighting chance of understanding the niceties of the Internal Revenue Code. A normal citizen, groaning over his own family’s 1040 form, is doomed.

The American bishops were enthusiastic about the health-care “reform” that produced this situation (although they balked, at the eleventh hour, at the coverage of abortion and contraception). I wonder whether their diocesan human-resources departments have protected them from the new expenses and headaches that families such as mine now face. Yet this result was not unpredictable. When Obamacare was enacted, allegedly to provide better health coverage for all, the legislation did not provide for a single additional doctor, nurse, hospital administrator, medical researcher, or even insurance broker. Instead the government hired a few thousand more people to handle the paperwork and—can this be a coincidence?—to check tax returns.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Oct. 03, 2015 11:26 PM ET USA

    You are too kind in your assessment of this disastrous law and its attendant regulations. The worst is that it is still not totally implemented and the regulation writing will never stop.

  • Posted by: jimr451 - Oct. 03, 2015 8:19 AM ET USA

    I totally sympathize here. We had a nightmare when our plan was cancelled, and had to switch to Obamacare. At one point we had 3 active plans while trying to work through the red-tape and malfunctioning website. Since ACA was passed, our premiums have increased 10% or more each year. We're now waiting for IBX to release their 2016 rates, fearful that the trend will continue.

  • Posted by: Ken_H - Oct. 01, 2015 9:41 PM ET USA

    Have there been any actual benefits (for anyone besides the government) since the federal government "took over" the health care bureaucracy? It seems that you hear horror story upon horror story from patients, doctors, small employers, etc. Maybe you just don't hear the good news?