House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, seeing an opportunity to score political points with his party’s hard-right base, recently resorted to scare tactics after the announcement that Anthem is pulling out of the Covered California exchange in Kern County. After reading McCarthy’s grave predictions that the Affordable Care Act “is collapsing,” the 5,000 county residents covered through Anthem could be forgiven for panicking.
But don’t panic and certainly don’t listen to McCarthy. He’s just reciting a tired list of talking points.
The only thing changing for the 5,000 Anthem patients in Kern is the name of the company on their insurance cards. They’ll still get the care they need, the care all Californians are entitled to, no matter what fiction he feeds his constituents or his true intended audience: the party brass in Washington (of which he is a part) and President Trump.
The exchange is working wonders in California, giving coverage to millions of people who for too long have used emergency rooms and other urgent care “solutions” as their only access to medical treatment. McCarthy disingenuously blames the Affordable Care Act for instability in the market while creating the very turmoil he condemns: “None of this can be blamed on Republicans because nothing in Obamacare has been changed in the law,” McCarthy told The Californian.
But plenty can be blamed on the Republicans. President Trump’s irresponsible comments about allowing the ACA to “implode” plays politics with the lives of millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him. And when Republicans got their turn at bat in the health-care ballgame, they introduced bills that would end coverage for millions, bankrupt those with pre-existing conditions, and allow an opt-out for the young and healthy – a demographic essential to keeping costs down – meaning the very people who need health care the most would have to pay through the nose to get it.
That’s the verdict of most Americans, and even most United States senators. When your party owns Congress and the White House and you still can’t pass health-care legislation, that means the legislation isn’t worth passing.
But McCarthy is right about one thing: Anxiety in the insurance markets is real. The source of the anxiety, though, does not stem from the Affordable Care Act but from the “repeal-and-replace” chorus we’ve been hearing from McCarthy and his colleagues for seven years. Anthem Blue Cross President Brian Ternan said as much, in explaining his short-sighted decision:
“The market for these plans has become unstable. And with federal rules and guidance changing, it’s no longer possible for us to offer some of those plans.”
Meanwhile, though they’re pulling out of Fresno, Kern and a few other markets, Anthem – whose profit growth from government business is so robust that it beat recent Wall Street projections - is choosing to remain in 28 of the state’s 58 counties.
Anthem’s competitors in Kern – Health Net, Kaiser and Blue Shield – are more than happy to step in, taking the long view that the Republicans and the Trump administration won’t have the political currency to abandon the Affordable Care Act. And when the market stabilizes after the rhetoric dies down, Anthem will realize it served up its Kern customers to its competitors on a silver platter.
As for McCarthy, he recently told The Californian he hasn’t given up on a health care bill. Really? What are his ideas? Besides voting for the House’s American Health Care Act — a tax break for the wealthy that would strip millions of their health coverage — it isn’t clear what our congressman has in mind.
Perhaps he should spend more time meeting his 100,000-plus constituents benefiting today from the ACA and less time memorizing a list of party talking points.
Steve Schilling is CEO of Bakersfield-based Clinica Sierra Vista, a nonprofit corporation that provides health care to a low-moderate-fixed income patient population.