USA Today put the latest troubling signs of private insurers bailing out of Obamacare on the top of the front page Wednesday. But something really obvious was missing from the text of the entire article – the name “Obama.” (A small blue headline did promote the daily debate on the opinion page: “Repair Obamacare, don’t repeal it: Today’s debate, page 7A.” The word "Obamacare was also avoided in the text.)
The headline for this beating-around-the-bush story was “Health care costs to rise in 2017: Aetna pullout in 11 states reflects insurance industry upheaval.” Reporter Jayne O'Donnell began:
Aetna's decision to leave the Affordable Care Act exchanges in 11 states follows dozens of similar decisions by large and small insurers across the country, moves that dramatically reduced competition in some states and contributed to increased premiums.
Such a move was inevitable now that insurers have to compete on price instead of which company can attract the healthiest customers, health care experts say.
Higher premiums is exactly where the Obama promises to save Americans on health care costs should be mentioned, but no, it’s just the “ACA,” proposed by someone in Washington in recent years:
Prices across insurance carriers are very likely to make a big jump for 2017, records show.
Insurers are seeking approval for average national premium increases of 24%, according to calculations by Charles Gaba of ACAsignups.net. What insurers request and states approve is often quite different, but experts say it will be more difficult for states to drive harder bargains with insurers given the losses many are facing with ACA plans.
O'Donnell mentioned "Kevin Counihan, CEO of Healthcare.gov, said the Department of Health and Human Services is considering bolstering programs to help insurers manage the risk of treating their new customers." But there was no hard-nosed questioning of Team Obama about how the prices are making them look bad, as as John Merline underlined for Investor’s Business Daily last November: “Health Premiums Have Climbed $4,865 Since Obama Promised to Cut Them $2,500.”
The headline inside the paper on page 2-A was simply “Pain passes to consumer.”
On the Opinion page, USA Today's editorial view was this was still a "crowning domestic policy achievement" that should not be repealed. They began with a weird analogy that it's like an old Saturday Night Live skit about a product that's book a floor wax and a dessert topping:
Six years after its enactment, President Obama's crowning domestic policy achievement still divides the country. Its fans focus on the 20 million people who have left the ranks of the uninsured. Its foes see only rising premiums and rigorous regulations.
They acknowledge the new development underline the anti-Obamacare argument, and then try to claim that Obamacare’s failures can be blamed on Obamacare’s good features, and then they blame private insurers for anything failing:
Some of the program's woes are the result of its most popular features. When Obama famously promised that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it," many Obamacare markets were deprived of healthier customers who chose to stay put. The youngest age group went missing when those under 26 were allowed to stay on their parents' plans.
The insurers' actions represent a red flag for Obamacare, but it's not fatal. In fact, the volatility makes the case for why the 2010 law is an essential piece of the nation's health care puzzle.
Part of the problem rests with the insurers themselves. Unlike smaller competitors that deal primarily with Medicaid, the big companies are burdened with broad networks of well-paid medical providers. Rather than raise premiums too high or quit the program, they could restructure to compete for Obamacare's lower-income customers.