First the Republican-controlled House voted for the 40th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act in whole or part. Then as members departed for their August recess, Republicans were handed instructions for an "Obamacare media tour," a negative campaign playbook to follow in their home districts. Yet the truth is the law is already succeeding at improving health care coverage for millions of Americans, and the coming online insurance exchanges will save consumers money in many states. The situation is less certain in Florida, where consumers are paying the price for Republican attempts in Tallahassee to sabotage the law at every turn.
The fight during Congress' August recess will be a battle of stories. Democrats are highlighting how the Affordable Care Act is helping families by creating more access to coverage and better benefits. The Republican playbook recommends bashing the law by citing businesses that have had to cut jobs or limit growth. Yet the law doesn't require small businesses of under 50 employees to provide health coverage, and large businesses won't have to provide coverage until 2015.
Here is how the law is already making a difference in the Tampa Bay area:
• Because insurers may spend no more than 20 percent of premium dollars on profits and administration, insurers rebated more than 900,000 policyholders $47 million in 2011 and 2012, and this summer an additional $54 million will be returned.
• Nearly 50,000 young adults obtained health care coverage because they can now stay on their parents' policies until age 26.
• More than 77,000 seniors received savings on prescription drug costs under Medicare, totalling $100 million in discounts.
Rates for the health insurance that will be offered on the online state exchanges, a place for one-stop shopping for health insurance that will open in October for 2014 coverage, are lower than expected overall. An 11-state analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released in July found that plan costs are on average 18 percent lower than Congressional Budget Office estimates.
That may not be true in Florida, where rates on the online exchange are expected to jump an average of 35 percent, according to an analysis by the state's Office of Insurance Regulation. Florida's congressional Republicans will be making a lot of noise about the price jump. But they should blame fellow party members. The Republican-controlled Legislature suspended for two years the state's ability to control rate increases for health insurance policies. It was a given that rates would soar as a result.
Now it is up to the federal government to force some of the 11 health insurers who will offer plans on Florida's online exchange to bring down premiums or be denied access to the exchange. The state declined to build its own exchange, leaving the job to the federal government. Florida's Republican leaders claim to be standing with the people on health insurance, but they have abandoned to the federal government the job of protecting the state's consumers from being gouged. It's more than a little hypocritical to undercut health care reform at every turn and then complain it isn't working as well as expected.