House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy hasn't given up on a health care bill, an issue that has taken on added urgency locally with insurance company Anthem announcing it will stop offering Covered California exchange policies in Kern County.
That's what he told The Californian this week, in a one-on-one interview Friday and in a meeting with the editorial board Thursday that covered health care, immigration, transgender members of the military, tax policy and more.
“Obamacare isn’t working,” McCarthy said Friday. “If you can’t make it in California where you have a population that’s 12 percent of the entire nation, the exchange can’t make money. You know why? We don’t let people actually choose what they want.”
He pointed to high rates of people opting out of insurance and taking the tax penalty, premiums rising an average 12.5 percent in California next year, with some counties, including Tulare, seeing spikes as high as 20 percent.
“You have twice as many people willing to do the penalty than sign up for it. All the metrics and measurements of what Obamacare was supposed to do is now passed, and now we’re seeing what is happening,” McCarthy said. “This is why we work so hard to pass a health care bill that would work.”
Anthem announced Aug. 1 that it would pull out of all but 28 counties. Kern County’s exchange policies will end, however plans will still be offered in Stanislaus, Tulare, San Joaquin, Merced and Mariposa counties, among others in Northern California. The retreat impacts about 153,000 Californians who purchased Anthem insurance on the exchange, of whom 5,090 were in Kern County as of March.
“This was not an easy decision for us. We know that changes like these can have a real impact on the people we serve,” Anthem Blue Cross President Brian Ternan said. “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.”
That leaves Kern County with three providers offering insurance through the Covered California exchange, which was created as a result of the Affordable Care Act: Kaiser, Health Net and Blue Shield of California.
Although McCarthy points to Anthem’s retreat as a sign of the impending collapse of the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," in California, others say it’s a symptom of an uncertain climate borne out of the rhetoric of Republican members of Congress and the Trump administration.
For months, Republicans have made efforts to make good on President Trump’s campaign promise to “repeal and replace” the ACA, and most recently, Trump has threatened to eliminate federal subsidies for insurance companies.
“Part of these departures can be laid at the feet of a president and a Congress that have given nothing but disruption and insecurity to an insurance market that relies on stability and calm and predictability,” said Stephen Schilling, CEO of Clinica Sierra Vista, one of the country's largest federally qualified health care providers, which had about 4,000 patients enrolled in Anthem health plans throughout the Central Valley.
McCarthy said his party bears no blame in the collapse because nothing in the ACA has changed.
“None of this can be blamed on Republicans because nothing in Obamacare has been changed in the law,” McCarthy said.
Despite that, Anthem’s departure likely won’t create insurmountable strains for consumers forced to find new plans, Schilling said.
That’s because the Affordable Care Act mandated all health plans offer 10 essential benefits, “so essentially, you’ll get the same coverage,” Schilling said.
That’s especially true in Kern County, where a shortage of specialists means that most are signed up for all providers' health plans, Schilling said.
Senators rejected a repeal bill in late July after three Republicans joined with 48 Democrats to block the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was “time to move on” from health care reform. Trump later tweeted, calling on legislators to “let ObamaCare implode, then deal!”
McCarthy said that time has come.
“It’s collapsing in California just like it’s collapsing everywhere in the country,” McCarthy said. “It will have to be dealt with. I see them coming back to it.”