I'm frustrated. Although the healthcare reform law is certainly not an ideal regulation that solves all the problems facing the healthcare industry today, it was, in my opinion, a step in the right direction. One of the biggest steps it took was to boost the benefits health insurers must provide their members, including preventive screenings, maternity services and mental health coverage.
Given these heightened coverage requirements, it should come as no surprise that many companies have been dropping plans that don't provide the new mandated benefits. They're not legal under the law anymore, so why would insurers continue offering them? Instead, consumers have the option to look for other plans that likely include more benefits and, yes perhaps, higher premiums.
And that's where the public backlash started, with consumers complaining loudly to news media outlets that President Barack Obama broke his promise that if you like your plan you can keep it. Republicans, who have opposed the reform law and pledged to repeal it, jumped on the opportunity to publicly bash Obama and the law.
So what does Obama do in the face of this controversy and public pushback? He apologized to consumers who felt deceived. I commend that move--if more lawmakers apologized for their actions, politics would be an entirely different ballgame where people actually took responsibility for things they said and acts they took. Apologies make people more likeable and trustworthy because it shows their vulnerable and authentic sides.
In a separate speech, Obama called the wave of cancellations a positive process that helped weed out the bad apple insurers that had free reign to essentially underinsure members.
But Obama's apology and pleas with the public did little to sway them away from the single focus on the fact that they now have to research new insurance options. So Obama directed his top healthcare advisors to come up with an administrative fix to the canceled health plans that have caused such a public image problem. That fix came Thursday morning when the Obama administration announced it wouldn't require insurers to change existing individual plans to meet reform law requirements this year.
In possibly a last-ditch effort to limit the damage to his legacy, Obama instead said insurers can extend by a year policies they were canceling--as long as they tell their members which benefits are missing from their current plans.
But this most recent concession means, in my opinion, Obama took two steps backwards in his goal of overhauling the healthcare industry. He potentially created a new--and unnecessary--hiccup in changing the rules after insurers already have implemented reform provisions: It could disrupt the insurance market and potentially cause higher premiums.
Through most of his reform-related actions, Obama is allowing the public and Republican lawmakers to dictate the story of the reform law. He should be telling the story himself and taking charge of the tone, trajectory and long-term public opinion of reform implementation. After all, it's his law. He should be writing the book about it.
Obama shouldn't have to bend over backwards to change portions of the law that aren't favorable but are nonetheless necessary. Like I've said before, change is inevitable. We may not like it, but it's an absolute part of life, especially in areas that are as problematic as healthcare.
Change must come. And you have to move forward, traversing unknown territory and paving new paths, to realize change. That can make people scared and frustrated, but we could all grow healthier as a country if we simply allow the change to occur. - Dina (@HealthPayer)