There was good news last week and bad news last week when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, and weirdly enough, for the first time possibly ever, it was the same news.
First, here's the good news for Americans: If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan!
That's what the president said on Thursday, and that's what Congress wants. Of course, there's no indication the insurance industry will cooperate with the president, but we'll get to that later. For now, the good news is, if you have an affordable healthcare plan and you like your plan, you can keep your plan -- even if it doesn't meet the minimum coverage standards of the Affordable Care Act.
This brings us to the bad news for Americans: If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan!
Why is this bad news? Well, as most of us know, the Affordable Care Act included minimum coverage standards for a reason. As the Heritage Foundation pointed out back in 1989, the underinsured are a big reason why healthcare is so expensive in the United States. They're a big reason why the rest of us pay so much for coverage and services that cost a fraction of the price in many other countries. To allow the underinsured to remain underinsured simply because they like their plans defeats the purpose of healthcare reform. It ensures that the rest of us will continue to pay more. This is why the Heritage Foundation advocated for healthcare mandates all the way back in 1989.
So in many ways, the good news is the bad news when it comes to the Affordable Care Act: Americans can keep their healthcare plans, but as a result, Americans will continue to pay more for their healthcare plans.
Does this make sense? Didn't think so.
To understand how this happened, let's take a look at what President Obama originally said about the Affordable Care Act. He said, "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan. No one will take it away, no matter what."
Fast forward to October 2013, and it turns out millions of Americans will not be able to keep their healthcare plans, even if they like them. Millions of policies were cancelled, because they did not meet the minimum requirements of the ACA.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) introduced the "If You Like Your Health Care Plan, You Can Keep It" Act. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) proposed the "Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise" Act. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) unveiled H.R. 3350, the "Keep Your Health Plan Act." Even former President Bill Clinton got in on the act. In an interview with OZY Media founder Carlos Watson, Clinton stated, "I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment that the federal government made to those people, and let them keep what they got."
As a result, the president caved. On Thursday, he announced (again) that if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan!
Speaking to reporters at the White House, the president said, "Insurers can extend current plans that otherwise would be canceled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan."
It sounds like a simple fix that should make everyone happy, but there are problems with this fix. First, the president isn't requiring insurance companies to extend current plans; he's simply saying they can extend these plans if they choose to. Obviously, there's no guarantee they will.
Secondly, the plans he's talking about are not "current" plans anyway, because they've already been cancelled. Reinstating them will require a lot more than a White House press conference.
Thirdly, the plans can only be extended if state healthcare commissioners will allow them to be extended -- and at least one healthcare commissioner has already indicated that he won't.
Finally, there's the fundamental problem that the Heritage Foundation identified in 1989: we can't allow the underinsured to remain underinsured simply because they like their plans. To do so would be costly, silly, and irresponsible. As Newt Gingrich wrote in his 2009 book Real Change: the Fight for America's Future, "Allowing individuals to pass their health costs on to others reinforces the attitude that their health is not their problem and adds to the irresponsible, unhealthy behaviors that bankrupt the current system."
So there it is, America. We can keep our healthcare plans if we like our healthcare plans, but we can't have it both ways. If we keep our healthcare plans, we'll drive up costs. If we cancel our healthcare plans, Congress will demand that the Affordable Care Act be changed, delayed, or repealed. The president will cave, costs will continue to rise, Congress will continue to insist that we can keep things the way they are, and we, as Americans, will pay in the long run.
That, indeed, is the same old news.