As the Republicans continue their attempts to dismantle and replace Obamacare, we wanted to take a look, which may soon be postmortem, at how key indicators in the health care industry have changed with the implementation of Obamacare. The problem with obtaining a true gauge of Obamacare’s impact is the biased information Democrats and Republicans put out to further their arguments on the subject. I’m sure everyone knows a person who was able to obtain health insurance courtesy of Obamacare while also knowing a person who was priced out of the market due to the steep premium, deductible, and out of pocket maximum increases seen over the past few years. So, how has Obamacare truly impacted the industry? Let’s take a look at three main categories: cost, quality, and health insurance access.
Well, as I’m sure you have noticed, prices are rising quite quickly. To analyze by how much, let’s take a look at premiums. For 2015, the average single person and family annual premiums were reported as $6,251 and $17,545 according to Kaiser. By comparison, the pre-Obamacare average premiums from 2010 were $5,049 and $13,770; leaving us with a 24% increase in single premiums and a 27% increase in family premiums over that 5 year period. Unfortunately, average wages only grew by 15% during that time. You don’t need to be a mathematician to understand that those percentages are unsustainable for average citizens. If premiums weren’t bad enough, deductibles and out of pocket maximums have been rising at similar rates.
The combination of these factors together has made healthcare virtually unaffordable for middle and low income families. To put healthcare spending in perspective, the per capita spending on healthcare was $9,024 for 2016. Not only is that 33% higher than the next closet industrialized nation, Switzerland, the average income in 2015 (I know it’s a year off) was $46,119, which would show that 20% of your annual wages go to health care. And as was highlighted above, healthcare costs are rising 12% faster than wages, so the percentage of your wages going to healthcare is going to continue going up under the status quo.
Now, costs were certainly out of control prior to Obamacare, so the rising costs shouldn’t be blamed solely on the legislation. But given that the legislation was passed under the guise of lowering costs, I would say it failed horribly on trying to reign in costs.
Many people in the healthcare industry will defend the high prices by claiming the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world, and in certain disciplines, that is certainly true. But in an overall sense, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the U.S routinely ranks last among industrialized nations on healthcare quality. If you Google “US Healthcare Ranking,” you will be met with a myriad of results showing study after study which has found that the American healthcare system is subpar compared to similar industrialized nations. In a Commonwealth Fund evaluation of the healthcare systems for the U.S., Switzerland, Sweden, France, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway, and Australia, the U.S. ranked last in access, equity, and outcomes. Again, Obamacare was passed to remedy access and outcomes, and even though some claim that it has remedied those areas, this independent study shows the U.S. healthcare system is far inferior to comparable nations in terms of quality and outcomes.
Lastly, let’s evaluate the effect on health insurance access. This is the area where Obamacare indisputably succeeded. The legislation allowed millions of people to obtain coverage while addressing the cruel practice of denying people with pre-existing conditions. It was a long overdue change for the industry, and now that it is finally in place, it needs to be protected. The main challenge accompanying millions more insured people, and this shouldn’t be skewed to be a criticism, is that adding millions of insured people to an industry already at a shortage for doctors is that it exacerbates the pre-existing shortage. According to The Washington Post, the country faces a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025. With that being said, there is indeed a worry that the rush to add more doctors will further diminish the quality of healthcare, but that is a problem Congress will need to address.
Overall, Obamacare has failed to effectively reduce, or at least slow, costs, and healthcare quality still trails all other comparable industrialized countries. In contrast, it has done a terrific job in helping millions of people obtain health insurance, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Like I said when the legislation was passed into law, it was too hurried to fully address all of the problems ailing such a massive industry. As the old saying goes, history always repeats itself, and we face the same situation as we did during the Obamacare votes with this version of Trumpcare. Trumpcare, much like Obamacare, is as much a piece of political party propaganda as it is an actual plan to fix the healthcare system, and because it is a propaganda tool, it was rushed and heavily flawed. Does the healthcare system still need to be fixed, even after Obamacare? Yes. Is Trumpcare the answer? No.
Given how painfully slow Congress operates, a healthcare bill that takes less than ten to twelve months to pass probably wasn’t fully thought out.