- - Sunday, November 1, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Obamacare’s third year of open enrollment began on Sunday. People hoping to sign up saw a website with fresh photos and high-tech features. They found the actual insurance of the president’s signature law has gotten even worse.

Unless something dramatic happens, this may be the year of the health care law’s collapse. Prices keep rising and service keeps fading. It should not surprise the administration that people are not signing up.

Despite all the Obama administration has done to completely upend health care in this country, there are still more than 30 million uninsured people in America today. The reason they’re not buying Obamacare isn’t because they haven’t heard enough about it. They’re not buying because it’s a bad deal for them.

As people log on to the government exchanges this year, they will see the telltale signs of Obamacare’s impending failure. These include: costs soaring, cancellations mounting, and choices disappearing.

The first thing most people will notice is the higher price tag. Premiums are jumping by double digits in many states. In Alaska, premiums will be nearly 40 percent higher next year. People buying insurance on the Minnesota exchange will pay anywhere from 14 to 49 percent more.

Premiums are just one part of the high-cost story. Many plans are raising deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket costs.

Remember when President Obama’s mantra was “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it?” Now the administration is singing a different tune: “If you have an Obamacare plan, you better shop around.”

That’s about the only advice Washington has for people who want to avoid brutal rate increases. If you’re willing to switch insurance plans each year, your rates may go up by slightly less.

For some people, their old plan won’t be available at any price. This includes more than a half-million people insured by one of the health co-ops that have shut down in 11 states over the past few months.

It also includes people whose insurer decided it simply couldn’t afford to sell Obamacare coverage anymore. That’s what happened in my home state, Wyoming, where the company WINHealth is dropping out of the exchange entirely.

In some states, plans are changing dramatically even if the company remains. A patient may find that her longtime doctor will no longer be a part of her plan’s network. Maybe the hospital nearest to her home is no longer included by her insurance. These kinds of changes can leave people with very different coverage than they had before.

As people work their way around the website, they may notice that the remaining options are slimmer than ever. Analysts at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation say that more of the choices will be HMOs this time around. That can mean narrower networks and no out-of-network coverage.

In some states, the number of options is practically non-existent. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, people living in 14 of Nevada’s 16 counties will have only one or two companies to pick from. In Wyoming, with the failure of WINHealth, residents will have only one option.

Insurance through Obamacare is largely coming down to a simple choice of take it or leave it. More and more Americans are leaving it.

The only people who are consistently signing up are the ones who get subsidies from Washington. For them, the website should come with a warning label reading: “Buyer beware.” According to the IRS, 90 percent of people who received government insurance subsidies last year got the wrong amount.

To avoid an all-out panic over low enrollment, the administration is trying to lower expectations. It’s lowered the bar for success to around 10 million people enrolled for 2016. That’s half of the 21 million people the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says should be covered next year. It’s also essentially flat compared to the 9.9 million who were enrolled in June.

The administration is playing the lowered expectations game because they know how hard it is to convince more Americans to buy government-mandated insurance that costs so much. For so many people, Obamacare doesn’t have much to offer.

Even the $695 tax penalty isn’t enough incentive to coerce people to buy. People facing premium increases along with a $5,000 deductible see little reason to pay for insurance they may not want, need, or be able to afford.

Obamacare is failing because too many people want nothing to do with it. As the costs continue to rise, more people get cancellation notices, and the exchanges offer fewer choices, the collapse will only continue. We may look back at this past Sunday as the beginning of the end.

John Barrasso, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, is a senator from Wyoming and a physician.

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