Suddenly our state is in sight of reaching a goal that has eluded health reformers for decades: universal coverage. But Congress doesn’t want to hear about it.
This got drowned out by the roar of the U.S. Supreme Court’s thunderbolts. But our state’s insurance commissioner just went to Congress and told them some news that, had they been anybody but members of Congress, they might have found really interesting.
One: The share of people in Washington state with no health coverage now is the lowest ever recorded, Mike Kreidler testified.
Two: The rates insurers have requested to charge for policies in the individual insurance market next year are the lowest price increases in the 14 years Kreidler has been in office.
Good news, right?
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The committee didn’t think so. Many members of the U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittee either didn’t believe Kreidler or just appeared to ignore what he was saying.
“You made a statement that things are looking better,” one Republican congressman fumed. “It doesn’t look like it’s looking better to me.”
You’re presenting an alternate version of reality, another GOP congressman challenged Kreidler. Premiums in the congressman’s district were soaring by 30 percent, he said.
“Washington must be the only state” where this is happening, joked a third.
“No, they didn’t give me an inch,” Kreidler, a Democrat, recapped Friday back in his Olympia office.
After the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare on Thursday, two GOP congressmen from this state, Dave Reichert and Dan Newhouse, both put out statements decrying the law for jacking up insurance premiums — a point that had been contradicted just the day prior by our own insurance office.
Kreidler testified that after years of double-digit premium increases, the average rates requested this year are up only 5.4 percent. By comparison, every year from 2008 to 2012 the individual market rates in the state went up double digits, from a low of a 12 percent increase in 2011 to 18 percent in 2009.
“In our state it isn’t true that Obamacare is causing big premium hikes,” Kreidler told the committee.
As with anything involving health insurance, premiums are only part of the story. Many customers have complained, rightly so, about rising deductibles and copays.
The requested premiums also vary widely by company and plan. Group Health has proposed a 3 percent price cut, for example, while a company called Moda asked for a 21 percent price boost. One could cherry-pick Moda’s prices and conclude Obamacare is a disaster, but all in all, this is what passes for a tame overall insurance market.
The refusal to admit anything might be trending right with Obamacare has become almost pathological.
Take the news that the uninsured rate in the state has plummeted to 8.5 percent. That’s the lowest figure, by a great deal, since the U.S. Census began surveying on the topic back in 1987.
The new data means our state suddenly is zeroing in on a historic benchmark — what technically could be called universal coverage. “Technically” because about 5 percent of people either are exempt from Obamacare or are ineligible for its benefits (such as immigrants living in the country illegally). So 95 percent coverage is about as high as the state is expected to get under current laws.
We’re within a few hundred thousand people of achieving that — a goal that has eluded health reformers for 75 years.
“The goal’s in sight,” Kreidler said. “It’s tremendously exciting. I’m not sure how many people know that.”
What’s galling is how many members of Congress don’t want to know. They have been so strident against Obamacare for so long that any positive news about it simply cannot exist.
This denialism has to end. There are a slew of problems with the law that need fixing. But it can’t happen because Republicans in Congress remain obsessed with the reform being a total failure.
C’mon, change is in the wind. We’re moving past the culture wars. We even appear to be getting over the Civil War. Time to end the health-care wars, too.