George Zornick On Obamacare

Originally broadcast on January 10, 2014:

George Zornick covers Washington for The Nation

George Zornick covers Washington for The Nation.

Republicans want you to believe that millions of Americans are losing their health insurance due to Obamacare, and that President Obama lied when he said “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”

George Zornick writes for The Nation magazine. He’s been looking into this for the Washington Post and writes that when all is said and done, only ten thousand Americans will lose their coverage, not the five million that conservative pundits would want us to believe. He joins us from Washington, DC.

David: George, Republicans want us to believe that Americans are losing their health insurance because of Obamacare. Let’s deal with anecdotal evidence first. These victims of Obamacare Republicans keep introducing us to, do any of their stories ever pan out?

George: You know, I don’t want to absolutely say that not a single one has, but a lot of the ones that we’ve been looking into and certainly some of the ones that have been featured in a lot of these ads that are hitting Democrats for supporting Obamacare have not panned out, or at least they haven’t given us the complete story so that we can’t know if what they’re saying is actually true.

10,000 Americans will lose their coverage not the 5 million Republicans want you to believe, according to our guest George Zornick.

10,000 Americans will lose their coverage not the 5 million Republicans want you to believe, according to our guest George Zornick.

So, you know, a lot people may end up losing a health insurance plan because as the President has been extremely open and well publicized about is that if a health care plan, say, for example, doesn’t cover mammograms or is allowed to discriminate based on preexisting conditions or is basically what you would call a junk health insurance plan, that it wouldn’t be allowed to be sold on the new health insurance exchanges, and this is sort of . . . that was a big piece, that was a big virtue of the law that they were very public about. So obviously reading between the lines, what that means is if you have one of these plans, you’re going to have to change it. Now that’s different than losing it.

So a lot of the people that they’ve trotted out will be someone whose plan was changed, who their company writes them and says “we can no longer offer you this plan.” But, of course, there’s always a part B which is “however, we can offer you this plan or that plan.” So a lot of times when you actually pull the thread and look at these people who say “oh, I lost my plan,” there’s a second half of the story which is “oh, I got this other one, and by the way, it might actually have been cheaper than the one I was using and certainly offered better coverage.”

David: George, what is the difference between losing your insurance coverage and losing your insurance plan?

George: Yeah, you know, if you watch Fox News long enough, you’ll notice a very slippery sleight of hand happening between losing health insurance plans and losing health insurance coverage. So if you had a plan that is ineligible to have been sold on the exchanges because it didn’t cover enough or it was a plan that was extremely cheap because the company was denying people who had preexisting conditions, even things like heartburn or something like that, well, then that plan has to kind of go by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean, and we’ll stipulate-although there isn’t a central repository of data-we’ll stipulate for a moment that five million people perhaps got a notice like that, that the plan they were on had to be changed. So technically speaking, did they lose that plan? Yes. But whether they lost coverage is another story entirely.

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010.

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010.

First of all, the White House passed a rule that said for all of 2014, people will actually be able to renew in their old bad plan even if, you know, they got a notice saying they couldn’t, just to ease the transition for people and give them more time to find a new one. So that immediately wipes out about half of the five million figure. A lot of the rest of the people when the health insurance company says “we can’t give you this plan anymore,” they say “well, but we can give you this plan.” And almost by definition, that plan has better coverage because, you know, it meets the standards of the health insurance exchanges. And then that person is also, unless they’re wealthy, also likely eligible to get subsidies on the exchanges to help pay for that plan.

So in the end what you have is people who lose their plan but then get a plan that certainly has better coverage and may be cheaper. And when you boil it all down, and the Democrats in Congress have done an interesting study that shows that when you boil it all down, there’s actually only, of that five million, there’s only ten thousand people who got a notice that their plan was changing and were not able to find another one. So that’s certainly a problem, but ten thousand is a lot different than five million.

David: I want to get to that in a second. Would President Obama have served Obamacare better if he said: “Five million Americans are losing their plans because those plans are now illegal. We’ve outlawed these plans. They’re junk plans”? Did he not clarify that properly?

Calling the mandate a "tax" the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare on June 28, 2012 by a vote of 5-4.

Calling the mandate a “tax” the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare on June 28, 2012 by a vote of 5-4.

George: He, no doubt, could have been more clear about that. But I think Republicans here are kind of playing dumb because he did also at the same time say, you know, a lot of these junk plans are not going to be allowed on the insurance markets if they don’t cover mammograms or if they don’t cover x, y, and z, or we’re going to make sure that the plans offered on the exchanges are up to those standards. And he also said if there are companies that are keeping their plans cheap because they’re denying people based on preexisting conditions, well, we’re going to put an end to that.

So it’s not that he said no plan will ever, ever change or be taken away, and he could have, I suppose, been more forthright about that, but the point is that Republicans knew and have known for three years that this is exactly what was going to happen. And if they want to sort of grandstand on the inconvenience of people having to change their plans, which I’m sure for some is an inconvenience, then they should always be sure to tell the second half of the story which is-what is the new plan that this person got and are they better served by the new plan than they were under the old plan?

David: Right.