- - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Names identify people, places and things, but sometimes, particularly in politics, a name can be a disguise. After six years, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has been fully unmasked. It’s clearly not affordable, either for a person seeking health insurance, companies that sell insurance coverage, or the U.S. government. It’s a telling symbol of President Obama’s dysfunctional leadership. When Mr. Obama leaves the Oval Office, Congress should be poised to replace his namesake program.

The nation’s largest health insurance firm, United Healthcare, announced last week that it will drop out of most state insurance exchanges by the end of next year. United lost $475 million in 2015 and expects to lose $650 million this year, because Obamacare clients tend to be sicker and their care costs 22 percent more than care for workers in employer-based plans.

The number of companies sticking it out goes up and down like a yo-yo. When Obamacare came on the market in 2013, 395 insurers offered individual coverage. The number, according to the Heritage Foundation, fell to 253 in 2014, bounced up to 307 in 2015 and has dropped since to 287. Subsidies of $20 billion will soon end, and more companies are expected to quit the market. Crony capitalism loses its appeal when cronies can’t capitalize.

As the economics of health insurance firms go, so goes the financial condition of Americans required to purchase coverage. The average Obamacare premium has climbed by 8 percent in 2016 and the cost of the mid-level “silver plans” has jumped 11 percent, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. With balance sheets in the red, many companies are expected to impose steeper raises in 2017. Nearly 13 million previously uninsured Americans bought coverage over the last three years, but twice that number still have not. Those millions figure it’s more affordable to pay a tax penalty of $695 per person, or 2.5 percent of household income above the filing threshold, than submit to the unaffordable Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare provisions have led millions of low-income families to join Medicaid rolls. In a recent study, researchers at UCLA and the University of Michigan report a 6.6 percent increase in the number of Medicaid recipients visiting a doctor in the past 12 months. There was no improvement in actual health among those surveyed, and 26 percent of Americans polled by National Public Radio in February said the president’s health care law has harmed them personally.

The federal government is the guarantor of Obamacare’s health, and despite efforts to bend the cost curve downward, the government now spends more on its health care programs — $936 billion in fiscal 2014 — than it does on Social Security, at $882 billion. The price tag for U.S. health care has surpassed $3 trillion annually.

Mr. Obama took a stab at health care and skewered the American economy instead. When he leaves the White House next January, Republicans should have legislation ready honoring the free-market principle that no one protects the consumer’s wallet better than its owner. Whatever title the law is given, it must not exempt members of Congress. Real leaders lead by example.

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