When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, was enacted, Americans were promised a healthcare system in which insurance companies would be held accountable and patients would have access to affordable care. Six years later, however, the reality has proven to be quite different-a plan that was supposed to mend our nation’s fractured healthcare system has driven up healthcare costs, decreased market competition, and ultimately harmed patients.
Last week, UnitedHealth—the nation’s largest health insurer—announced that it expects to lose more than $500 million through plans they offered under the ACA in 2016. Just yesterday, Anthem came out with disappointing fourth quarter earnings as well, citing Obamacare plans. Despite an increase in enrollment, in November 2015 UnitedHealth officials were in talks of pulling out of the ACA exchanges in 2017, citing losses of over $425 million. As a result, UnitedHealth and other large insurers are narrowing networks and raising premiums to cut costs, gaining profits for themselves while hurting consumers.
Sadly, this is just one example of how Obamacare’s burdensome regulations have resulted in disastrous consequences. Insurers, who are reporting millions in losses from their ACA plans, are merging to spread fixed costs over larger pools of patients. Between the mergers and the numerous state co-op failures (12 out of the 23 established under the ACA have shut down), competition in the health insurance marketplace has plummeted and costs for insurance continues to rise. In 2015, the average deductible for single coverage for the most common ACA plan (a silver plan) was $2,927 and $6,010 to cover a family. This year, premiums are projected to increase further and insurance companies are not making things easier on patients.
Consumers might see health insurance companies extending “proactive measures” to make up for their financial losses from the ACA exchanges, but these proactive strategies for insurers mean the reverse for patients and consumers. Simply put, insurance companies are narrowing their networks and increasing costs to discourage consumers to sign up for their plans. The intent of Obamacare was to hold insurance companies accountable, but it’s done the opposite by allowing insurers to take advantage of this unworkable legislation and increase their profits at the expense of affordable care for patients.
With 42.3 million and 37.5 million members, respectively, UnitedHealth and Anthem’s lowered earnings forecast pose a threat to the availability of affordable health plans. As Humana and Cigna, two other mega insurers, plan to release their earnings in early February, consumers should be prepared to start once again shopping around for their health insurance. On top of high out of pocket costs, increasing deductibles, and narrower networks, the ACA has handcuffed patients and has made health insurance simply unaffordable for American families.
Obamacare promised to make insurance affordable for all Americans, but instead the government intervention encouraged insurers to offer poor quality plans and allowed them to impose even higher costs on patients. Patients today are even more vulnerable than they were before. With the 2016 election in full swing, it’s time to start thinking about how to repair the damage the insurance industry and misguided policies of the ACA have inflicted on consumers and ensure the health and wellbeing of American citizens in the future.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union, and on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.