Progressives Were Right: Obama’s Health Plan Not Solving Crisis

New Data Show Why Simply Having Insurance Isn’t Enough

by David Sirota for Salon

While the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is already revolving around conservative-themed attacks on “Obamacare,” back when the healthcare bill was being legislated, the most important debate was within the Democratic Party, which held large majorities in both houses of Congress. On one side were the drug companies, the insurance companies and President Obama — the latter who had not only disowned his prior support of single-payer healthcare but had also worked with his corporate allies to actively undermine a modest public insurance option. On the other side were progressives who opposed any bill which further cemented the private insurance industry as the primary mediator between doctors and patients.

Ultimately, Obama and his corporate-backed allies organized enough conservative Democrats in Congress to win, effectively turning healthcare “reform” into a blank-check TARP-style bailout for the health industry. But, of course, to even whisper that last truism is to now run the risk of being labeled a blasphemer in a conversation that can only tolerate misleading red-versus-blue analyses. In today’s national political debate, there are Republicans who insist “Obamacare” is a Canadian-style “takeover” of America’s healthcare system, and there are Democrats who insist that the health bill is a major Medicare-like achievement — any other argument, no matter how valid, has been vaporized by election-season pressure to fall in ideological line.

Unfortunately for the political class, however, reality doesn’t take orders from partisans — it persists irrespective of talking points, press releases and Twitter mobs. And on healthcare, the original progressive criticism is now being validated in a new study from Arizona. Going beneath the superficial rhetoric about health insurance and to the reality of actual health care and health costs, the study published by the American Journal of Public Health found:

Health insurance is not protecting Arizonans from having problems paying medical bills, and having bill problems is keeping families from getting needed medical care and prescription medicines, a new study has found… After taking age, income and health status into account, simply being insured does not lower the odds of accruing debt related to medical care or medications. In addition, says University of Arizona College of Pharmacy research scientist Patricia M. Herman, ND, PhD, who directed the study, medical debt is a separate and better predictor of whether people will delay or forgo needed medical care than their insurance status.

“On average, insurance coverage in Arizona is not protecting families from experiencing medical debt,” Herman says. “From other studies we knew that paying medical bills is a problem for a substantial portion of both insured and uninsured Americans. This study helped clarify that the fact of medical debt is an additional and larger barrier to getting needed health care than whether a person is insured or not.”

With 60 percent of all bankruptcies related to medical costs; with many of those medical-related bankruptcies occurring among those who have private insurance; and with the fear of medical bankruptcy encouraging the insured to unduly skimp on medical services, the Obama healthcare bill did purport to address the issue via caps on out-of-pocket expenses. But those weak caps — and the bill’s failure to achieve universal coverage — promise to allow the medical debt problem to continue, just as they have in the state whose “reforms” most closely mimic Obama’s bill.

As the Los Angeles Times recently reported:

Studying medical bankruptcies in Massachusetts, whose recent healthcare reform was a model for national reform, researchers found that while new insurance rules increased the number of people who had coverage, those rules did not improve coverage — leaving many still struggling with medical debt… Proponents of the national healthcare reform passed into law last year have claimed that it would reduce medical bankruptcy in the United States by helping more Americans get insurance. This new study, which was published Tuesday in the American Journal of Medicine, suggests that a reduction in bankruptcies is unlikely.

Add to all of this a new Center for Public Integrity report about how American wages are still being eaten up by private health insurance premium increases, and the trajectory is clear: Events are proving that “real reform” and strengthening insurance industry power are mutually exclusive goals. That is, they are proving the veracity of progressives’ original criticism of President Obama’s healthcare legislation. This is, to be sure, a politically inconvenient truth to both parties and their insurance industry benefactors — but alas, it is the truth. The longer we simply stare at it — or pretend it doesn’t exist — the longer the healthcare crisis will continue.


  1. Gary on July 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    I agree with you that the health care reform is not much good. It is mostly a nest feather for the big health insurance companies. I only thing good about this health reform bill is the universal mandate. Maybe that can be the foundation of good law in the future.
    But who is to blame for the poor law. You say Obama, I say republicans in the SEnate and their use of the filibuster. Their use of this filibuster is why we can’t raise the debt ceiling. IT is why many of Obama’s appointees have not been able to occupy the offices with which they were appointed, it is why the tax breaks for super rich were preserved. I never say she protection of rich people alnd corporations in history this country. The republicans are trying to ruin our country.

    • John Barker on July 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm

      There isn’t anything good about the Mandate. The Mandate is corporate welfare on a grand scale and should never be a part of any healthcare reform. It exploits Americans by forcing them to financially support health care profiteering. What should be healthcare reform is Expanded and Improved Medicare for All because Medicare is funded via taxation, a power granted to the government by the constitution.

      The Mandate is a quintissential Republican idea that goes back at least to the Nixon administration. Like most Republican ideas it exploits middle class Americans in favor of corporations and the wealthy economic class. It is Mit RomneyCare, the Massachusetts healthcare plan, currently in effect there, and the basis for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). PPACA was Obama’s and the Democrat’s attempt at bipartisanship. Republicans put their finger into the current political winds and found that Mit Romney Care was unpopular. They labled their own health care reform ideas as ObamaCare and saddled Democrats with the onus of having enacted one of their own pro-corporate ideas that exploits middle class Americans and the poor. .

  2. Vashti Winterburg on July 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    So how about a study of the citizens of Massachusetts. Has Romneycare lowered the number of bankruptcies due to medical bills? I’m guessing not. Last I saw Massachusetts had the highest cost medical care in the nation.
    Is there a way to get Vermont’s single payer up and going before 2017? How about 2014? Is there a way to get neighboring New York, or even Massachusetts to go single payer? My feeling is that we need Vermont and one other state, preferably a state adjacent to Vermont. California would be great, but is it way too distracted by its own economic trials?

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