federal health reform


Married To Obamacare: The Soap Opera

Obamacare is hard. It’s a great big behemoth of a health care overhaul, packed with complex changes for a complex labyrinth of a system. No normal person could be expected to stay awake through the law’s 800-plus pages. But it’s important — both as policy and because it could affect your care and your wallet.

So sometimes, we get a little desperate to explain it. And hey, who doesn’t? MIT professor Jon Gruber even turned it into a comic book. The Kaiser Family Foundation made a game-like video, and has just put out a new cartoon: “The YouToons Get Ready for Obamacare.”  We’ve tried “listicles” — 10 Things About Obamacare You May Not Know But Should — and distilling it into a 3-minute video.

But now we’re getting extra desperate because the real Obamacare countdown has begun. The Washington Post even started a 100-day countdown until millions of Americans can start enrolling in the overhaul’s health insurance expansion.

So we’re trying yet another ploy: A cheesy soap opera. Below, CommonHealth intern Sascha Garrey uses her creative powers to sneak a dozen key points you should know about Obamacare into an over-the-top melodrama. For Cliff Notes types, we’ve highlighted the points in bold and listed them at the end. And for aural learners, click on the “play” button above to hear a delicious excerpt as a radio drama, produced by WBUR’s George Hicks.

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Sascha Garrey
CommonHealth intern

“I didn’t need that fourth glass of wine,” Cassandra St. James grumbled to herself as she slammed off her wailing alarm. Her headache from last night’s binge was beyond splitting, making her simultaneously grouchy and grateful that, thanks to federal health reform, her health insurance plan was banned from putting annual limits on essential services –  lately, she’d been going through her prescription migraine pills like they were Skittles.

“Uggghh…I cannot face another day at work!”

Cassandra had been feeling the heat at her job lately, perhaps sparking this new interest in multiple glasses of wine per evening. Being a customer service representative at a Boston-based health insurance company during the advent of federal Health Reform was stressful to say the least. But tension at work wasn’t the only reason for Cassandra’s hangover.

Cassandra was engaged to a man she hardly knew, even though she was still heartbroken over the loss of her true love, Dr. Lance Jones. It’s been almost three years since the freak boating accident that took Dr. Jones’ life along the Cape, but his body was never found, leaving Cassandra without closure. Maybe that’s why she’d agreed to marry Chip Montebello.

To be sure, Chip had a good heart, but his health insurance situation left something to be desired. His decision to defy the state’s individual mandate left him with a greater tax burden and no health benefits.

What’s more she had financial woes coming at her in every direction. It didn’t help that the health insurance available to her through her employer was all but affordable, with over 9.5% of her income put towards her premium each month. In more desperate moods, Cassandra fantasized about having the freedom to buy insurance over the Health Connector, but that fantasy was too farfetched even for her. Massachusetts law prohibits anyone with insurance available to them through their job to seek coverage elsewhere, regardless of its affordability.

But it wouldn’t matter even if she could stray to the Connector. Ever since her so-called “big promotion” her salary was boosted to $45,960 and with her household size of one, that boost put Cassandra at 400% of the federal poverty line. With an income at that level, she wouldn’t even qualify for any of the state subsidies for purchasing insurance on the Connector, available only to those with incomes between 133 – 300% of the federal poverty line.

“And then there’s my mother,” Cassandra said under her breath as the phone rang. Continue reading

Actuaries: ObamaCare Will Hike Claims Cost 32 Percent (But Not In Mass.)

Source: The Society of Actuaries' report, "Cost of the Future Newly Insured under the Affordable Care Act." (Posted with the society's permission.)

Source: The Society of Actuaries’ report, “Cost of the Future Newly Insured under the Affordable Care Act.” (Posted with the society’s permission.)

The Associated Press, delving courageously into actuarial data, reports here:

Insurance companies will have to pay out an average of 32 percent more for medical claims on individual health policies under President Barack Obama’s overhaul, the nation’s leading group of financial risk analysts has estimated.

That’s likely to increase premiums for at least some Americans buying individual plans. The report by the Society of Actuaries could turn into a big headache for the Obama administration at a time when many parts of the country remain skeptical about the Affordable Care Act.

…Medical claims costs are the main driver of health insurance premiums. A study by the Society of Actuaries estimates the new federal health care law will raise claims costs nationally by an average of 32 percent per person in the individual health insurance market by 2017. That’s partly due to sicker people joining the pool. The study finds wide disparities among states. The estimates assume every state will expand its Medicaid program.

Naturally, my curiosity turned provincially to Massachusetts. The full Society of Actuaries report is here, including this gorgeous infographic breaking down the data by state. I’m happy to report that New England states are looking good: Vermont and Massachusetts can expect claims costs on individual policies to decrease by over 12 percent and Rhode Island by more than 6 percent. New York can expect a whopping drop of nearly 14 percent. Compare that to poor Wisconsin and Ohio, expecting an increase of over 80 percent.

The AP piece also features some refutations from the Obama administration, including: Continue reading

Supreme Court Hearings, Day 3 In A 2-Minute Cartoon

Once again, when it all gets to be a bit too much, we are turning to an animated video.

Yesterday’s cartoon summed up the central issue at stake in this week’s Supreme Court hearings on the federal health law: Whether the government can require everyone to buy health insurance.

Today’s session involves two other issues: Medicaid and “severability.” What about them? Take two minutes to watch the video above. And deepest thanks to Kevin Outterson, director of Boston University’s Health Law Program (who, as we noted yesterday, does tend to have a bit of a point of view.)

The Supreme Court Health Law Hearings: The 3-Minute Cartoon

Supreme Court Health Law Hearing: The 3-Minute Cartoon

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. Every time I tried to read the Supreme Court transcript in order to try to write some nice, value-added post for this historic health-law occasion, my eyelids drifted downward and my breathing deepened.

Finally, I decided that instead of wallowing in guilt, I’d ask for help from an expert teacher: Kevin Outterson, director of Boston University’s Health Law Program and a frequent blogger on health policy at The Incidental Economist. I told him that three minutes was the limit of my attention span for this topic, and though this challenge required of him a degree of simplification perhaps more radical than any he has ever attempted before, he was a great sport, and collaborated on concocting the quick script for the short video above. Political note: The guru character in the video has a bit of a point of view.

This is CommonHealth’s second feature in a new genre, Wonk Cinema, dedicated to helping people stay awake long enough to learn about health policy issues that affect their lives. The first was “What The Heck is an ACO?”

Ballot Campaign to Repeal Insurance Mandate Ends In Mass.

From the Massachusetts Against the Mandate Webpage

By Martha Bebinger

If you chafe against the Massachusetts requirement that you have health insurance, sorry but you won’t have a chance to vote against it — not in the next election, anyway.

Backers of a ballot measure to repeal the state’s insurance mandate sent out an email last week saying they had failed to gather the needed signatures. (Points to policy-types-turned-crack-reporters Brian Rosman of Health Care for All and John McDonough of Harvard for reporting that development here and here.)

The ballot initiative’s organizers say their bid to derail the individual mandate failed because supporters were torn.

One group, those involved with Massachusetts Citizens for Life, worried about dividing their efforts between two ballot questions next year, one that would allow assisted suicide and one that would repeal the insurance mandate. In the end, fighting the assisted suicide question won.

In addition, conservative backers “were very concerned that this would make Mitt Romney look bad, and as they support him in the primaries they didn’t want to sign on to this, or donate to it or work for it” says Bridget Fay with Massachusetts Against the Individual Mandate. Continue reading