Once Again, Insurance Companies Attempt to Save Obamacare

DrRich | March 7th, 2011 - 7:36 am

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Health insurance premiums all over the country are rising at rates that, only a year ago, were rare, and when they occurred, provoked angry and threatening letters from Secretary Sebelius. Increases in premiums of 40% are not uncommon this year, and businesses across the land (which otherwise might be inclined to do their patriotic duty, as defined by President Obama, and hire some people) are suffering because of it.

Republicans, of course, already smell blood in the water. A federal judge has declared Obamacare – the entire law – to be unconstitutional, and has given the administration only a limited time to apply for a stay of his ruling. President Obama himself seems to be faltering on the individual mandate, telling states that they can forgo this mandate – if, that is, they can come up with an alternative plan that does everything the President claims Obamacare is supposed to do.*

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*States can’t really accomplish this, of course, so the President’s offer is empty. DrRich thinks that he is advancing this idea in order to make the argument, in court, that the mandate is not really a mandate, since, as he’s just made plain, it’s merely an option.
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And now, Republicans gleefully point out, thanks to Obamacare health insurance premiums are rising faster than they ever have before, at rates that threaten to make our jobless recovery remain jobless forever. “Look at the damage Obamacare is already doing,” they’re telling us, “and most of its destructive provisions don’t even kick in for three more years.” The increase in insurance premiums will soon be felt – directly or indirectly – by every American who has health insurance. It will be a huge boost, Republicans think, to their efforts to get rid of Obamacare.

In an action that will undoubtedly surprise those many experts who persist in believing that Obamacare represents a major defeat for insurance companies (and who therefore must live in a perpetual state of surprise regarding many things about the healthcare system), the insurance industry is vociferously denying that their current premium increases have anything to do with Obamacare. According to the New York Times, for instance, Vincent Capozzi, an executive at Harvard Pilgrim, insists that only 1% of the premium increase this year is caused by Omabamacare (mainly its requirement for free coverage of preventive services). The insurance industry, according to the Times, maintains that “premiums are rising primarily because of the underlying cost of care and a growing demand for it.” That is, the cost of healthcare is accelerating thanks largely to our aging population and the adoption of expensive new technologies.

Whatever it is that’s making premiums go up, the industry asserts, it’s not Obamacare.

To understand what’s really going on here, DrRich asks you, Dear Reader, to put yourself in the place of a health insurance CEO in early 2011. After a long, hard fight, in which you had to debase yourself in public several times (in order to play your assigned role of Villain in the Obamacare set-piece), you are now a mere 33 months from Nirvana. In January, 2014, the individual mandate kicks in, and you will reap your reward of tens of millions of new subscribers, subsidized by the government, and thus you will have your long-coveted One Last Windfall. A year or two after that, once you have blown through this last windfall, you will become a public utility. It is not a glorious ending to your once-arrogant industry, but it is far better than the oblivion which otherwise would be your fate.

Common wisdom (such as that employed by most of those perpetually nonplussed “experts” to whom DrRich previously referred) might suggest that your best course would to be to lie low for the next 33 months, to remain as unobtrusive as possible so as not to upset the apple cart, in a word, to keep any increases in your premiums down to an unremarkable rate. But you are smarter than that. You understand that while instituting outlandish premium increases at this juncture is indeed risky, you’re still walking a tightrope, and keeping your premium increases to a more reasonable level is equally risky.

There are two good reasons for you to raise your rates right now to a truly stunning degree. First, of course, you only have three more years to control your own insurance premiums. Once Obamacare is fully actuated, and the mandates are applied, stringent controls will be placed forevermore on your ability to raise your premiums. So naturally, you need to establish as high a baseline as possible during these next three years.

Perhaps more importantly, you need to place a shot across the bow of the Republicans. You need to let them know that if they manage to repeal Obamacare, either legislatively or through the courts, they will have a tiger by the tail. “Just look at us!” you are saying. “Today, before Obamacare even kicks in to any appreciable degree, we are forced to engage in these truly ridiculous premium increases. Increases like this will drive subscribers from our rolls, and will bring the wrath of the administration down upon our heads, but we do it nevertheless, as we have no choice. Look upon us, Republicans! If you succeed in repealing Obamacare, just look at what you will inherit! The alternatives you propose to Obamacare all hinge on a robust health insurance industry, but we are not robust – we are decrepit, we are dying. Our business model is so obviously broken that today we are behaving suicidally. We, your presumed partners in your post-Obamacare healthcare system, are the living dead. So think twice, Republicans, before you go any further!”

Just how well the insurance companies will succeed by this method in slowing the Republicans’ efforts to overturn Obamacare, one cannot say. Probably not much. But inasmuch as Obamacare is utterly necessary for the survival of the insurance industry, if this method fails DrRich is confident they will come up with something better.

4 Responses to “Once Again, Insurance Companies Attempt to Save Obamacare”

  1. Doc99 says:

    Well … Rich, it seems to me your line of reasoning is at least partly true. However, because the exchanges will be set up with basically one size fits all plans, the adoption of community rating, the no lifetime cap on benefits, the no pre-existings, etc, the premiums have to go up. And what law mandated all this? Bingo! PPACA – which neither protects patients nor provides affordable care.

    • DrRich says:

      Doc99,

      I’m not at all saying that Obamacare won’t drive up insurance premiums. It is designed to drive them up enough to make the insurance companies capitulate to complete government control (i.e., public utilities). I’m just saying that the premium increases this year are not due to Obamacare, which is what the insurance industry itself is saying.

      Rich

  2. pj says:

    I think that your analysis of the Insurance companies is accurate. The point is, that in any given political climate they are hugely profitable. Given that the current administration is replaced with a Republican one in 2012, what changes so you foresee?

  3. PeteJC says:

    Health insurance companies are in favor of health care reform. They were not asked to be involved in helping to formulate Obama care. They agree with much of the structure of what Obama care will do. They don’t agree with the methods that Obama care will use to fund national health care through “fees” insurance companies must pay to do business or the strict limits on admin costs across all market segments that limit profits in good years but don’t limit losses. Insurance companies are not against health care for all and reform. They don’t like the way the Obama Admin has and will make the rules. They hope for a new set of rule makers in 2012 but not nec repeal, more rewrite.

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