This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on June 28, 2018.
Democrats are planning to use looming health insurance premium increases against Republicans in the midterm elections. This is, of course, a chapter right out of the Republican playbook, and Republicans’ failure to pass health insurance reform, let alone repeal of ObamaCare, could make them vulnerable on healthcare issues.
Democrats’ focus on health insurance premiums is ironic. When ObamaCare was passed into law, Democrats claimed that it would lower health insurance premiums. In 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said that he would “sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of (his) first term as president that (would) cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.”
In March 2010, a Democratic Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “ObamaCare.” Shortly after signing the bill, President Obama claimed that Americans would “see their premiums reduced” and “get a better deal.” As ObamaCare was being implemented in 2012, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Everybody will have lower rates, better quality and better access.” This claim was greeted with a “false” rating by PolitiFact.
Famously, President Obama and his administration routinely promoted the line, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” PolitiFact found 37 instances of then-President Obama or a top administration official repeating this sentiment to the American public. Instead, millions of Americans were sent letters notifying them that their plans has been cancelled in the wake of the law. In December 2013, PolitiFact named this phrase its “Lie of the Year.”
It’s true that individual health insurance market is a train wreck, and it’s easy for Democrats to point fingers at President Donald Trump and Republicans. But let’s be clear. ObamaCare was wreaking havoc long before President Trump took the oath of office.
Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, there were constant stories and ads run about the ObamaCare premium increases, and rightly so. Premiums for benchmark silver plan jumped by 22 percent over the previous year. This was an all too familiar theme under ObamaCare.
In May 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report showing that premiums in the individual health insurance markets of the 39 states that use the federal ObamaCare exchange, Healthcare.gov, had increased by average 105 percent between 2013 and 2017.
In Missouri, for example, the average monthly premium was $197 in 2013. By 2017, the average monthly premium was $483, an increase of 145 percent. West Virginia saw an increase of 169 percent over the same time period, while Montana saw a 133 percent increase. Other states fared worse, of course. Alabama, Alaska, and Oklahoma saw increases of more than 200 percent.
When ObamaCare was rolled out, Democrats claimed that Americans who purchase plans on the individual market would have more choices and more competition, key components to bringing down insurance costs. That simply hasn’t happened. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 50 percent of counties had only one health insurance company offering plans through the federal Obamacare exchange for plan year 2018.
In 2016, nearly 22 million people purchased coverage in the nongroup health insurance market, 7 percent of the total population. Less than 12.6 million selected plans — not necessarily purchased them — through ObamaCare marketplaces. For 2018, less than 11.8 million selected plans.
This brings us to another problem with ObamaCare. To keep insurance premiums down, health insurance companies narrowed provider networks, meaning skimpy provider networks. They also increased out-of-pocket costs rather than further increasing premiums.
Clearly, consumers didn’t believe President Obama and Democrats’ rhetoric about ObamaCare. When a program that was supposed to bring down health insurance premiums and offer more competition doesn’t attract more than half of available consumers, you’ve done something wrong.
In his 1998 book, “The Fatal Conceit”, Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” He could have been writing about ObamaCare.
Yes, Republicans deserve blame for not addressing the problems with ObamaCare. Of course, bailouts for health insurance companies won’t address the root causes of these problems, nor will simply repackaging and rebranding ObamaCare by another name. The individual health insurance market is in dire need of patient-centered, free market reforms. Unfortunately, few Republicans in Congress actually want to accomplish these goals.
Democrats’ only answer to the problems ObamaCare has created is more of the same. Some Democrats want a completely government-run health insurance program, under which private health insurance would be banned. Others want a so-called “public option,” the goal of which would be to undermine and eventually eliminate private health insurance.
So-called “solutions” that center around government do little more than exacerbate existing problems. Pointing fingers at Republicans doesn’t change the fact that ObamaCare is a disaster that Democrats made.
Jason Pye is the vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks.