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Budowsky: Obama’s Healthcare Katrina

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Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans are receiving letters from insurers informing them that their health insurance policies have been canceled. They are worried and angry that they may be forced to accept new policies with dramatic premium increases that President Obama repeatedly promised them would not happen.

These Americans are the equivalent of New Orleans residents who were stranded on their roofs after floods engulfed their homes during Hurricane Katrina. They comprise President Obama’s Healthcare Katrina. Obama has a moral and political duty to set this right.

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I do NOT suggest the Affordable Care Act itself is comparable to the fiasco surrounding Hurricane Katrina. It is not. The Affordable Care Act includes many worthy reforms that will improve healthcare for huge numbers of Americans. For this the president should be commended. 

I AM suggesting there are direct analogies between mismanagement surrounding the establishment of the healthcare exchanges and mismanagement that surrounded Katrina, and direct analogies between damage done to those who lost their insurance because of the Affordable Care Act and damage done to New Orleans residents who lost their homes because of Katrina.

From 2008 through 2013 the president was told repeatedly, by numerous aides, that millions of Americans would lose their ability to keep their insurance policies and retain their family physicians under the law that was a signature purpose of his presidency. And yet the president promised, again and again, year after year, with great certainty, that consumers would be able to keep their policies and family physicians under his program.

The president owes these Americans who lost their policies and family physicians a fix that will make his promises become true. It will not be easy but it can be done. It must be done to restore public trust in his words and safeguard the legacy of his presidency.

I have a close friend who knows more about healthcare than I do. She strongly believes that those who lost their old policies will be able to find new policies through the exchanges that are equal or better in coverage, and lower or comparable in price. I have my doubts, but hope she is right.

It would serve the president’s moral, political and historical interest to stand up for these people and find some way to make them whole. What’s the alternative? Let them suffer indefinitely with negative news plaguing his presidency?

Obama should work with insurers and both parties in Congress to allow these citizens to keep their current policies for an extended time, until they can study and choose new policies. Their enrollment date should be extended significantly. It would be absurd and unjust to force any American to pay a penalty because they lost a policy they were promised they could keep, and to force any American to pay higher premiums they were promised they would not be forced to pay.

If necessary, the president and Congress should enact a tax rebate or refundable tax credit to cover the premium increase for those who lost old policies and help Americans to find comparable new policies.

Obama should name someone such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a nationally respected healthcare reformer, to be a powerful champion for those who lost their policies.

The media generally, and particularly those of us who are progressive, should take up the cause of those I call the Katrina-style victims of healthcare. I would like to see E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Paul Krugman and Charles Blow of The New York Times, hosts on MSNBC, Democratic guests on political television and all progressives, myself included, lead the charge to help these people.

By shining a spotlight on insurers who act responsibly — and on those who do not — the media can provide a major service to consumers who are choosing new policies, a major reward of favorable publicity to insurers that offer good policies and a powerful punishment of negative publicity for insurers that do not.

Americans who have lost the healthcare they were promised they could keep are good, honest, patriotic Americans. They accepted a promissory note from their president — a promissory note their president should do everything in his power to redeem for them today.

 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.