Step forward, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)! You’ve won the prize for cynical attacks on Obamacare. In fact, keep the trophy -- you’ve retired it!
We’re talking, of course, about your proposal to repeal the provisions of the Affordable Care Act providing for “risk corridors.” As we explained last month, risk corridors are a feature of the law designed to protect insurers that end up with a disproportionate share of sicker, costlier customers. In effect, they get a subsidy from the government to cover those patients; the law also requires firms that land more than their share of healthy, inexpensive patients to rebate some premium dollars back to the government.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Monday, you branded this arrangement a “bailout” of the insurance industry, and said you’d introduce a bill today to repeal it.
Before we get to how clever and audacious that is, let us tip our hat to some of the other features of your essay. It’s as fine an anthology of misinformation, disinformation, error and pure lies about the ACA we’ve seen since the last time Sen. Ted Cruz took the floor.
You claim that Americans are being “recklessly exposed to identity theft” by the Obamacare website, healthcare.gov. Good one! That notion may long since have been debunked, but props to you for trying to keep it alive.
(Extra points for taking a drive-by shot at “navigators,” who are people hired to help guide their fellow Americans through the insurance sign-up process. Accusing them of ID theft and fraud is a great touch, especially since there’s no basis for the claim whatsoever.)
We’re especially admiring of your assertions that the risk corridor provisions were “buried deep” in policy statements by the Department of Health and Human Services and were disclosed by “none of its proponents” during the debate and passage of the ACA in 2009 and 2010. That’s true! Especially among legislators who didn’t bother to listen to the debate or read the law they were passing! You get a pass on this, since you took office in 2011. But have you checked with your more senior colleagues, since you’re making them out to be cretins? Just asking.
Now let’s get to the heart of your achievement. You’ve been quacking about the Affordable Care Act for months, maybe longer. You’ve proposed delaying the individual mandate. Groused about the “tech surge” the administration implemented to deal with the problems of healthcare.gov. (“They won’t tell us who exactly they’re bringing in and they won’t tell us how much they’re spending on it,” you complained.)
But repealing the risk corridors is a priceless step, because it undermines so many aspects of the ACA at one swipe. Since the risk corridors exist to help keep premiums of some exchange plans from exploding because of a surfeit of expensive customers, repealing them removes a crucial consumer protection feature.
Since the risk corridors protect the revenues of insurers in the exchanges, repealing them would drive insurers out of the exchanges and thus destroy this central feature of Obamacare. The fact that the insurance industry was awarded this central role in Obamacare largely to please conservatives like yourself -- that’s why the so-called public option was dropped -- is what put your proposal over the top on cynicism points.
We should note here that some judges on the award committee objected that your proposal is merely a sop to the GOP right wing, which you have to please to advance your presidential aspirations. They noted that your bill has zero chance of passage, even if it were to reach the Senate floor (also unlikely).
But you won counterbalancing points for consistency. You represent a state, Florida, that your Republican colleagues have turned into a black hole for the Affordable Care Act. The Republican legislature has refused to expand Medicaid, thus turning down a federal program that would pay almost the entire cost of covering as many as 1.2 million low-income Floridians who are without health insurance. Even your Republican governor, Rick Scott, favors the expansion (though as a former hospital executive he understands the cost of doing nothing).
But if you’ve spoken out against your legislature’s dereliction, we can’t find that in the record. So we’ll take that as another cynicism point: You’re working to undermine the exchanges, and you’re not lifting a finger to help your constituents gain insurance outside of the exchanges. Excellent. Your work is a model, and you should be proud.