Editorial: Undermining Obamacare Won’t Hide Its Success

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2014

As part of their guerrilla war on Obamacare, Missouri lawmakers not only have failed to pass Medicaid expansion, but have forbidden state insurance regulators from reviewing proposed prices and other details about health plans on the federal health exchange.

That means thousands of Missourians must shop for coverage without the information they need to make informed decisions.

What a terribly cynical and mean-spirited thing to do in the name of serving the public.

Missouri is one of only a few states that does not reviewhealth insurance rates. Potential health care customers here don’t know which companies are offering plans in their areas, what benefit options are available to them or how much it will all cost.

The Consumers Council of Missouri, an advocacy group, has now sued the federal government to try to force public disclosure of health insurance rate information ahead of the upcoming enrollment period beginning Nov. 15.

The group made a Freedom of Information Act request for the rate filings, which was denied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The council told the Post-Dispatch’s Jordan Shapiro that it wants information about pricing and explanations for why insurers changed rates.

In many states, consumers don’t need federal help to get rate information because the details are made public by state insurance regulators who have authority to review an insurer’s proposed prices for health plans.

The consumer group says Obamacare requires federal officials to make rate information public so consumers can challenge the price of health insurance before they begin online shopping. The Health and Human Services Department division that runs the online marketplace has yet to release information about proposed rates or the identity of insurers who have applied to offer plans in Missouri.

A spokesman for HHS told Mr. Shapiro that the department is preparing the information and plans to release it, but did not say when.

Polls, surveys and statistics from independent research organizations, including the Commonwealth Fund, Gallup, the Rand Corp., the Kaiser Foundation and the Urban Institute, show that the federal health care plan is meeting many of its goals. Among them:

• More people have health insurance.

• People with health insurance are better off, with less financial distress and fitter mental health.

• Many people paid less for insurance this year than last year.

• Marketplace premiums are barely rising, and employer-sponsored premiums rose about 3 percent this year, similar to past years.

• Overall health care costs are rising at historically low rates.

• The federal deficit is down because money spent on health care has been offset either by new revenue or new spending cuts.

• The law exposed the nearly $3.5 billion in incentives that drug and medical device companies paid doctors and hospitals for part of last year. An initiative called Open Payments spotlights potential ethical conflicts. Consumer groups say such incentives can influence prescribing decisions, the use of high-tech tests and types of surgeries performed.

Missouri lawmakers must stop treating the poor and working poor like second-class citizens — or worse. All Americans are entitled to the information they need to make informed and critical decisions about health care. Hiding it won’t hide the truth: President Barack Obama’s signature health care achievement is working.

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