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Beam: Troubled times for democrats

Last Modified: Friday, November 15, 2013 5:16 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

When the Democrats get rattled, you know Obamacare is in real trouble. A disastrous rollout of the health care program’s launch was soon followed by President Obama backtracking on his promise that policyholders could keep the health care coverage they liked. Some 14 million Americans hold those individual policies, and many of them hollered loud and clear when their policies were cancelled.

A revolt by Democrats in the House of Representatives didn’t turn out to be as broad as expected. However, 39 of them still broke ranks Friday when they supported a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow insurers to continue selling those so-called inadequate policies through 2014. Obama’s Thursday admission that his administration “fumbled the rollout of this health care law” slowed the Democratic desertions.

Why did Obama finally own up to his broken promise. The Associated Press said it came after “six weeks of website woes, broken promises, tumbling poll numbers and deepening frustration from his own party...” The president obviously knows he is in deep trouble.

Without a new law on the books, insurance companies aren’t required to restore those cancelled policies. And state insurance commissioners have the last word. The California commissioner called on insurers to extend the 900,000 policies that have been dropped. The Washington state commissioner said he won’t allow that to happen. Both are Democrats.

There are two proposals floating around that are designed to legally fix the mess Obama created. The Upton bill passed by the House would allow insurers to sell the old plans that didn’t measure up to anyone, including new customers, but only for a year. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and others are backing a plan that would allow consumers to keep their existing plans indefinitely.

The outcome of both measures is pretty much already decided, according to a report by Politico, which covers political news. Obama said he would veto the House bill, but Politico said it “is headed nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate.” And Landrieu’s solution isn’t going anywhere in the Senate, either.

You can understand why policyholders want to know why their coverage was considered inadequate. The answer is simple. Their policies don’t cover new requirements under Obamacare. Those are things like no annual limits on health care, insurance companies being unable to drop customers who are sick, the coverage of pre-existing conditions, more women’s health care services, new preventative services at no out-of-pocket costs, prescription drugs and maternity and newborn care.

Older American women, for example, don’t understand why they have to pay for maternity care. And maybe that’s the best way to explain how Obamacare is supposed to work. Those who don’t need maternity and newborn care have to help pay for those who need it and don’t have it.

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthhammer put it another way.

“So a couple in their 60s must buy maternity care,” he said in a recent column. “A teetotaler must buy substance-abuse treatment. And a healthy 28-year-old with perfectly appropriate catastrophic insurance must pay for bells and whistles for which he has no use.”

Insurance companies aren’t in the business to lose money. When health care costs go up, so do premiums. And the companies aren’t happy about Obama wanting to let people keep those policies that were cancelled. They said the 2014 premiums charged to those who lost policies are fixed and designed to help pay for Obamacare.

Those who saw their policies cancelled aren’t the only targets. Obamacare has to require younger people to buy insurance because their premiums also help finance Obamacare, and they aren’t the ones who get sick most often.

What we have here is a federal law that is designed to have those who can afford to pay higher premiums help finance health care for those who don’t have it for one reason or another. It’s tailored along the lines of Huey Long’s proposed “Share the Wealth” program.

Supporters of Obamacare see no problem in that system. As some of them have said, the health care policies currently carried by people who can afford the premiums are already helping pay for the care that hospitals are required to give to the uninsured who show up in their emergency rooms looking for health care. They see this as a similar policy.

Opponents, however, argue that Obamacare is much broader than the hospital financing example and touches the lives of many more millions of Americans. Those wavering Democrats know they have been hurt politically by the continuing Obamacare problems, and one poll explains why.

“A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed House Democrats have lost their 9-point generic ballot lead over Republicans and are now tied, a month after a government shutdown sank the GOP’s approval rating,” according to The Hill in the nation’s capital. The newspaper added that Obama’s job approval rating has dropped to 39 percent, the lowest of his presidency.

“Clearly this is a president in a world of hurt,” said National Journal columnist Charlie Cook, a Louisiana native. “And with midterm elections often a referendum on the president, Obama’s predicament is a serious concern to Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and in every state capital.”

The magazine said 13 House Democrats lost their seats in 2010 as a direct result of their votes in favor of the Affordable Care Act. Party leaders are keeping a happy face in spite of Obamacare’s ongoing problems, but it’s easy to see why today’s congressional Democrats are rattled.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or

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