On Monday, Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, the Golden State's Obamacare exchange, informed the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board that 800,000 to 900,000 Californians will lose their individual health care plans at the end of the year. Nationally, as many as half of the millions of consumers with private plans will lose their coverage and have to buy an Obamacare plan. Asked about Obama's promise, Lee responded that it was "not well-stated" and "may have been an inarticulate way of describing what the realities are."
Lee argues that Covered California policies are better than today's private plans. Exchange policies offer no lifetime cap on benefits, preventive care with no copayments, and no refusal for pre-existing conditions. Quoth Lee, consumers "can shop as they never did before."
Likewise, White House spokesman Jay Carney charged that the current individual health care market is "the Wild West" with "substandard" care. The suggestion is that those who are about to be thrown off their health plans should be grateful.
James Stokes of Novato, Calif., isn't a happy shopper. An Obama voter, he wrote to me that his family premiums will more than double if he buys under Covered California. "Double premiums for the same service as before," Stokes wrote. "Am I missing something here?"
Robert Laszewski, a Virginia insurance industry consultant, won't be sending the White House a thank-you note. Blue Cross canceled his "Cadillac" policy. "Never had a procedure for either my wife or myself turned down," he blogged. "Wellness benefits are without a deductible. It covers mental health, drugs, maternity, anything I can think of."
If he buys on the exchange, Laszewski found, he'll have to pay a 66 percent higher premium for reduced benefits.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton has drafted a "Keep Your Health Plan Act" to save people such as Stokes and Laszewski.
I asked Laszewski what he thought of the Upton bill. "This makes sense, given all of the Obamacare government delays," he replied. He recognizes the downsides: "Will the insurance companies be expected to take all of the sick people with no expectation they will get the healthy people to pay the bills? Will the sick be able to sign up at will while the healthy sit it out?"
"From a political standpoint, it looks like a reasonable compromise," reasoned Joshua Archambault, health policy director for the Pioneer Institute. "From a policy standpoint, it could put the insurers in a very tough spot." Insurers based their new premiums on the expectation that they'd enroll healthy consumers who cannot keep their old plans.
"If we can get a delay, we should delay it," argues Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution fellow and former policy adviser to Mitt Romney.
Chen can think of modest fixes -- such as adjusting subsidies to reflect the cost of living -- but sees dicey politics for Republicans who suggest them: "It's just politically so hard because then you get accused of being sympathetic to the law."
Because Obamacare is going to start Jan. 1, I'd like to see a Republicans-to-the-rescue plan. Instead, the R's are going for the cheap-and-easy moment -- for example, Upton's two-page bill that somehow expects insurers to play along.
Maybe Republicans don't think it's in their interest to fix the Affordable Care Act. Or maybe there's no point in reviving the canary in the coal mine. Most likely, like the Democrats who wrote it, the Republicans have no idea how to fix Obamacare.