More Modest Benefits from Obamacare

Published September 25, 2014

One of the things that has continued to draw my attention is how truly, staggeringly slight the gains achieved under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) have been.

There are some who argue Obamacare has done only damage to America’s health care system, that there are no benefits to anyone other than in classic rent-seeking ways. I would not go quite that far, but it’s clear the damage has far, far outweighed whatever benefits there may be to this particular law.

Consider a story yesterday from Kaiser Health News:

Administration Says Hospitals Will Save $5.7B From Unpaid Bills Due To Health Law

Hospitals are projected to save $5.7 billion this year as previously uninsured patients gain coverage through the 2010 health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.

The story goes on to note that hospitals annually have around $45 billion in unpaid bills, some of which was already covered by government programs, such as the disproportionate share program that gives federal funds to hospitals that have a higher-than-average number of poor patients.

I’m sure the $5.7 billion is welcomed by these hospitals. But given that the disproportionate share program is being cut under Obamacare and increased Medicaid enrollment means more patients whose reimbursements are below cost, it’s hard to see this being much of a net gain for hospitals.

Government programs in 2013 covered about 65 percent of the unpaid bills faced by hospitals, and the increased number of insured through Obamacare may nudge that up a few points to the 70 percent range after cuts to the disproportionate share program and incresed Medicaid patient load are factored in. And that’s certainly good for hospitals.

But considering the devastation inflicted on the U.S. economy and health system in the form of higher premiums, less choice, higher taxes, slower economic and job growth, and other effects, it’s hard to conclude this slight benefit along with a few other modest improvements is worth the cost.