The president’s State of the Union address last week was notable for one thing: the almost total absence of the president’s signature health care law. Despite the fact that the address came within weeks of the law’s full rollout, the president didn’t even mention the law until almost 40 minutes into his speech.
And when he did finally get to the topic of ObamaCare, his remarks were striking for what they didn’t mention.
At no point did the president talk about help for those forced off their health care plans, relief for those dealing with ObamaCare-induced sticker shock, or anything for the many Americans confronting the loss of the doctor they had and liked.
But the president’s attempt to avoid the subject of his signature law won’t work, because Americans are being confronted with the pain of ObamaCare every day.
Before Democrats forced President Obama’s health care plan through Congress on a party-line vote, the president and Democrats promised that the bill would drive down the cost of health care and reduce premiums by an average of $2,500. In fact, the average family premium has risen significantly since the law’s passage, and it’s still rising. Millions of Americans received 2014 renewal letters with staggering premium increases – in some cases double or even triple what they were paying before.
Meanwhile, more than five million Americans received cancellation notices instead of renewal letters, with many more expected to lose their plans this year. Some of these Americans have found a replacement plan on the exchanges, but many others have found exchange plans to be unaffordable. Those plans that do offer affordable premiums frequently carry enormous deductibles – up to $12,700 for families.
As if that weren’t enough, middle-class families may also be on the hook for a massive government bailout of insurance companies if younger Americans, many of whom are underemployed, don’t sign up for ObamaCare in sufficient numbers.
In addition to crippling premiums and out-of-pocket costs, Americans are also being hit with the loss of their doctors and hospitals.
ObamaCare saddled insurance companies with a number of new obligations, from new taxes to a requirement that Americans with preexisting conditions be charged no more than healthy patients. Needless to say, insurers have scrambled to find a way to offset these huge cost increases, and many have chosen to do so by limiting the number of doctors and hospitals in their exchange plans.
For many Americans, that means their new health care plan may not include doctors they’ve been seeing for years. It also means that the nearest hospital covered by their plan may be hours away. A December 2013 study by the McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform found that 38 percent of the exchange networks analyzed in the report excluded at least 70 percent of the top 20 local hospitals from their plans. Worse, top research hospitals are often the most likely to be excluded from exchange plans, eliminating patients’ access to cutting-edge, life-saving treatments.
In addition to high costs and reduced health care access, Americans are also being hit by ObamaCare’s damaging economic effects.
ObamaCare is raising the cost of doing business for businesses large and small, which means there are fewer economic opportunities available for struggling Americans. In addition to a number of new taxes – from a tax on prescription drugs to a tax on medical devices like pacemakers and prosthetic limbs – ObamaCare slaps a number of burdensome regulations on businesses, such as a requirement that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees (which the law defines as just 30 hours or more a week) offer a government-approved health insurance plan.
This may not be a tremendous burden for some businesses, but for businesses in industries with small profit margins, offering government-approved insurance can be the difference between making a profit and making no profit at all. Local and state governments and nonprofit fields like education are also hit hard by this requirement. Around the country, employers are cutting workers’ hours to escape some of the financial burdens of the mandate, and workers are suffering as a result.
The health care law is also discouraging employers from hiring. CBS News reported in December that “Nearly half of U.S. companies said they are reluctant to hire full-time employees because of the law.”
Five years into the Obama economy, unemployment remains at levels historically only seen during recessionary periods. Many Americans have spent so long looking for work that they have given up entirely, with nearly 350,000 dropping out of the labor force last month alone. The worst possible thing we could do for these Americans is saddle businesses with new taxes and regulations that discourage hiring and expansion and encourage cutting jobs and hours. Yet that is precisely what the president’s health care law does.
The health care law has been a disaster from the start, devastating both family budgets and the economy as a whole. Every Democrat who voted for this law owes the American people an explanation. And Americans will demand one at the ballot box.
U.S. Senator John Thune is Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.