Perhaps the most misunderstood law ever passed is the Affordable Care Act. I must confess that I have never read it. I downloaded it from the Government Printing Office. The original bill has 1,990 pages in it. I think I would rather read the phone book than to try and tackle that challenge. I have heard that members of Congress who either voted for or against the bill have not read it either. I can't say that I blame them. We had this study aid in law school called “Gilbert's.” It was essentially an outline of the entire course. It was no substitute for reading the 50 pound law books we hauled around, but the outlines were helpful. I hope members of Congress had a “Gilbert's” on the Affordable Care Act.
There is perhaps no law that has been passed that has caused as much discussion as this law. Someone quickly called the health care legislation “Obamacare” which meant that 45 percent of the population hated it without studying it because the President's name was attached to it. I am surprised that they did not call it HusseinObamacare because some like to refer to the President using his Muslim middle name.
In any event, we are all learning what this legislation means for us. Horror stories abound of people trying to access the government's website. Of course, the website became available right in the middle of the government shutdown, which was probably not an accident by those who decided to shut the government down. Yet, there were flaws in the software and the site was not able to handle all of the inquiries, so it had its problems. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, tried to take all of the blame as if she had built the website.
The truth of the matter is that the technical problems of signing up for healthcare are not the real problems people are having with this monstrous legislation. Many are finding the cost of health care is rising under the new law, which should be no surprise to anyone because the health insurance companies had a very significant role in drafting the legislation. Who do you think is going to benefit the most from the Affordable Care Act? If you guessed that it is the health insurers, you win the gold star today.
My partners and I met with our health insurance broker a couple of weeks ago and received the bad news. The first bit of bad news was that our rates are increasing 13.9 percent. That is not unusual as they increase double digits every year until we switch carriers, get sucked in by the lower rates and then watch them rise. We are a small firm with only four employees and four partners on our health plan. Our broker told us that we are the most generous firm of all his clients because we provide full coverage to the employees and their families without any expense to the employee. Our employees are phenomenal and it is our way of rewarding them for outstanding work.
When we met with our broker, we also learned some good news. Although our rates were going up 13.9 percent for the coming year, we also learned that since our health plan year is not the calendar year but begins December 1, we don't have to comply with the new law until next year. Then came the really bad news: Next year our rates will go up 35 percent.
One of the disturbing things we discovered is that they now have community rates, which are not based on the individual risks. In the past, when we switch carriers, we have to go through this extensive health history process so we can be rated. Our current premiums are based on the health care risks of our employees, partners and families. Starting Dec. 1, 2014, that will no longer be the case, which is why our premiums increase more than 35 percent.
I have a problem with this. I have always believed that health insurance should be based on risk. If you smoke or have an unhealthy lifestyle, you should pay more than me. If I cause a bunch of car wrecks, my automobile insurer is either going to cancel my insurance or dramatically increase my rates. One of my teenager drivers had a wreck that was her fault and we suffered the consequences of high risk insurance for three years in which the premiums were nearly triple what they had been. I didn't like it but I could not blame the insurer. Insurance premiums should be based on risk.
Our insurance broker left us with some hope. He said that the health insurers will be developing some new products that will involve some self-insurance. Rather than pay all of the premium to the insurer, we will create a fund with some of our premiums and pay our own claims until we reach a maximum at which time health insurance kicks in. We are not sure how this is going to work out, but at least we might have some control. Of course, that is probably a delusion on our part.
As our insurance broker left our meeting, I joked that the Affordable Care Act was going to make me a Republican. I doubt that will happen, but it has made me more independent minded. I will no longer be examining candidates based on party affiliation but on how they are going to solve the major problems facing our country. It's time for a change.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org