Tonight at midnight eastern time, if the House & the Senate cannot come to some agreement on a bill that continues funding for the government’s operations, we will have the first government shutdown since 1995.
House GOP lawmakers have decided that this is the time to put all their chips in on ending, defunding, or now delaying the implementation of Obamacare. But will this tactical posturing backfire and hurt Republicans as we head into the midterm election season?
At least 800,000 federal workers would be immediately placed on furlough and not paid until a deal can be reached. Military, police, fire, and medical programs continue regardless of passage of an appropriations bill, the legislation necessary to continue funding government operations.
As our economy creeps out of the massive recession, the temporary layoff of 800,000 people is pretty much the last thing we need. House GOP lawmakers, who have voted 42 times to repeal or defund Obamacare since they took control of the house in 2010, seem to have no problem with any of the other provisions in a standard appropriations bill, but they have chosen to hold the funding hostage to make their stand on Obamacare.
But what do they propose to replace it with? How do they intend to make coverage available to the countless people with preexisting conditions who could not secure coverage before this law went into effect? How do they intend to help parents who have kept their adult children on their plan between the ages of 18 and 26 who would be unable to afford coverage on their own? How do they intend to maintain the slight shift toward preventative care that the law enabled by making preventative care, well checks and screenings available with no out of pocket costs to the consumers?
There have been no answers to these questions. Over the past few years you have heard talks of tort reform, that would allegedly lower costs by eliminating the cost of protection against frivolous lawsuits, and discussion of opening the markets across state lines to “provide more competition” between providers as possible solutions to the mounting healthcare crisis. Neither of these solutions have any statistical backing or substantiated evidence that they will have more than the slightest minimal impact to the consumers, while the insurance companies and providers would benefit from less accountability and the ability to relocate their operation to the state that offers them the sweetest deal.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is hardly perfect. The recently released costs for the healthcare exchanges that individuals can sign up for were fairly disappointing. In Arizona, for example, a 27 year old single male making 25,000 a year can sign up for coverage that, after tax incentives, will still cost him $140 a month. At 25,000 per year, his take home pay is $1450+ per month. This means that his monthly insurance premium will be 10% of his actual pay, and that’s for the low premium/high deductible plan, which means that, just as now, if he actually needs care, the deductible will challenge his ability to financially survive.
This is because the exchanges are still going through private insurance companies, who are still motivated by one thing, profit. These prices are set to ensure that if the asset/liability ratio of the people not covered on a group plan sway too much the wrong way, they are still going to see enough profits to keep the shareholders happy.
The small business I manage currently has 13 people enrolled in their group plan, and the company pays 50% of the premiums. For a single individual, regardless of age or income, the cost per month for the employee is about the same for the basic plan as the cost for the exchange. If our company decided it would be in our best interest to cancel our group plan and instead offer credits toward the exchange, the likely result would be a financial benefit to the company, and a tremendous inconvenience to the enrolled employees. There is little doubt many businesses will opt for this option.
There are plenty of changes to the Affordable Care Act that could be suggested that would probably have massive public support, and compromises could be made to enhance the law instead of holding the funding of the government hostage in an attempt to eliminate the positive impacts the law has had for the sake of a political victory.
We’ve been lucky so far and have managed to come to an agreement in the 23rd hour to avoid a shutdown, but both sides seem resolute in their convictions this time. So this game of chicken will come right down to the end, and we’ll see who blinks.