Human Face of Obamacare’s Broken Promises Becoming Visible

dean clancy
Published May 9, 2013

Virtually all the costs of the so-called Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—have been invisible thus far. But that is beginning to change.

As the controversial law passes its third anniversary and the Obama administration struggles to get a whole new national health care system up and running by next January, a visible sign of the law’s economic costs is seen in the 12,000 pages of regulations to implement the law’s 2,801 pages of legalese. Printed out and stacked, that tower of paper stands seven feet tall. Laid end to end, it stretches for two and a half miles.

Even more troubling than the economic costs are the human costs. Rosemarie Battaglia, a senior citizen from Texas, is on Medicare Advantage. In March the Medicare agency issued regulations that will reduce her health care benefits by thousands of dollars every year. Because coverage costs are expected to increase on average by $2,235 a year, Mrs. Battaglia has postponed her retirement indefinitely. Why? To help pay for Obamacare.

Hugh Joyce, owner of the 150-employee James River Air Conditioning in Richmond, Virginia, recently told the Washington Post his insurer has warned him to expect an 18 percent spike in his company’s health insurance premiums next year. Why? To help pay for Obamacare.

People like Rosemarie Battaglia and Hugh Joyce are helping Americans see the human face of a law that, so far, has only been a controversial abstraction.

Broken Promises on Premiums

The list of broken promises grows daily. Millions of Americans are getting hit with double-digit premium hikes. For many people under 30, their health insurance premiums are going up much more—by as much as 189 percent. What happened to candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 promise that every family’s health care costs would go down by $2,500 by the end of his first term? (Costs actually went up by $3,000.)

The Congressional Budget Office projects Obamacare will cost tens of billions more over the next decade than the agency projected just three years ago. Those increases were not budgeted for, and they will add to already-massive deficits.

So much for the promise the law “will not add one dime to the deficit.”

Millions of workers at places like Wendy’s and Olive Garden are now being preemptively reclassified as part-time, and an estimated 7 million to 20 million employees face the loss of workplace health benefits altogether.

So much for the oft-heard promise that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.

Medicare Benefits Targeted

One broken promise especially stands out. Seniors were assured the new system wouldn’t affect their benefits, despite Obamacare’s $716 billion in ten-year cuts to Medicare (to help pay for the new entitlement).

That promise was broken recently when the Medicare agency issued surprise regulations cutting Medicare even more deeply than Congress had directed—cuts targeting a popular and very successful part of Medicare, one that actually features consumer choice and competition: Medicare Advantage (MA).

Seniors who opt into MA enjoy greater care coordination, disease management for chronic conditions, and on-call nurses available by phone. Those extra services are now slated for the chopping block. All told, MA will see an 8 percent cut in payments next year—which is higher than the profit margins for these plan.

Payment Cuts Have Consequences

Actuarial experts at the American Action Forum predict the cuts will cause between 2 and 5 million seniors to lose their MA benefits and that MA recipients will face health care cost increases averaging $2,235 a year. Such deep cuts will especially harm diabetics, including patients with nerve damage and kidney disease, and anyone who is more prone than average to diabetes.

Some physicians worry that if the regulations take effect on April 1, their Medicare patients will lose access to necessary disease screenings, making it much harder for doctors to help them with early treatment and intervention.

For the past three years the president’s health care law has been an abstraction. Now, Rosemarie Battaglia and Hugh Joyce reveal the human faces—just two among millions—of Obamacare’s broken promises.