Stop mak­ing things worse

Anger at in­sur­ers is hurt­ing the in­sured

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Doug Thomp­son Doug Thomp­son is a po­lit­i­cal re­porter and colum­nist for the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. Email him at dthomp­son@nwadg. com or on Twit­ter @NWADoug

Revil­ing Jeb Bush, Hil­lary Clin­ton or James Comey is one thing. Dis­rupt­ing health in­sur­ance mar­kets that serve peo­ple who lead reg­u­lar lives is an­other.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump rose to power by pick­ing on two types of peo­ple: those his own size or vul­ner­a­ble mi­nori­ties. In the first case, he took on pow­er­ful peo­ple who per­son­i­fied the “es­tab­lish­ment.” That re­mained true af­ter he be­came pres­i­dent and fought with Congress. Now he is try­ing to take on the in­sur­ance in­dus­try. Be­tween him and that last tar­get, though, are a lot of in­no­cent peo­ple.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says it wants to end “bailouts” of in­sur­ance com­pa­nies. There are none. The clos­est thing re­sem­bling a “bailout” is gov­ern­ment pay­ment of sub­si­dies. Those sub­si­dies cover the costs of pro­vid­ing in­sur­ance to low-in­come cus­tomers, as re­quired by law. If those pay­ments stop, the le­gal re­quire­ment does not. There­fore, in­sur­ers will sim­ply raise prices on oth­ers to cover their losses or drop out of costly mar­kets.

In Idaho, for in­stance, an av­er­age of 38 per­cent in rate in­creases is re­quested by the state’s six Oba­macare in­sur­ers. That state’s in­sur­ance direc­tor, a long-time Repub­li­can, pointed di­rectly at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­fusal to com­mit to keep­ing up the sub­si­dies as the big­gest fac­tor driv­ing those re­quests. The un­cer­tainty alone ac­counts for at least half the re­quested in­creases, the direc­tor said in a state­ment Tues­day.

Trump, by the way, car­ried Idaho with 59.2 per­cent. It is one of our most Repub­li­can states. Lyn­don B. John­son just man­aged to edge out Barry Gold­wa­ter in 1964, the last time a Demo­crat for pres­i­dent car­ried Idaho.

Trump’s threats spring from frus­tra­tion at GOP fail­ure to pass a health care bill. Sup­pose the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s threats to end gov­ern­ment pay­ments to in­sur­ers are just bluffs in­tended to prod things along. They will not work, and the po­lit­i­cal price would be too high even if they could. The in­sur­ance in­dus­try does not bluff or ig­nore things. You can bet that what­ever de­gree of un­cer­tainty the White House cre­ates will be re­flected in 2018 health in­sur­ance rates. All threats do is cause risk cal­cu­la­tors to click some more. With in­sur­ance, the house al­ways wins. Rates will not go down once this self-in­flicted “cri­sis” is over.

As­sess­ing risk and mak­ing sure the in­dus­try does not get stuck with the costs is not just what in­sur­ance com­pa­nies do. That is what the in­sur­ance in­dus­try is. Risk as­sess­ment is its core and be­ing. Red-faced pres­i­den­tial anger is just an­other risk to fig­ure in.

If this goes on, in­sur­ance costs will keep go­ing up and peo­ple not named Bush, Clin­ton or Comey will lose their in­sur­ance. Guess who would get the blame. It will be the man who changed the rules in the mid­dle of the game out of self­evi­dent frus­tra­tion at los­ing.

The idea Democrats will get blamed be­cause they did not help the GOP dis­man­tle Oba­macare is ir­ra­tional. That would be like blam­ing lit­tle pigs for not build­ing houses of straw or sticks. It is silly to talk about pulling the rug out from un­der in­sur­ance mar­kets, then hold­ing up the rug in one hand while point­ing to the Democrats with the other, wav­ing a fin­ger and yelling “See? It’s their fault.”

Speak­ing of yelling, an ar­gu­ment can be made that yelling at Repub­li­can con­gress­men by groups like In­di­vis­i­ble does not change dyedin-the-wool Repub­li­can minds. But here is one thing shout­ing def­i­nitely does: Any Demo­crat who ever thought about giv­ing ground on health care looks at those marches, protests and crowds and for­gets that idea.

Read­ers of my past stuff know I am ex­tremely harsh to the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress, which ran on re­peal­ing Oba­macare through four elec­tions. But the pres­i­dent won his elec­tion by say­ing the sys­tem is bro­ken. An out­sider was elected pres­i­dent pre­cisely be­cause his vot­ers wanted dras­tic change. There­fore, it is spec­tac­u­larly un­fair for the pres­i­dent to leave the party’s ma­jor leg­isla­tive goal to an ar­che­typal in­sider, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, and do as lit­tle as Trump did to push it past the goal line. Then, when that failed, the pres­i­dent com­pounded the con­se­quences by pun­ish­ing peo­ple who could only watch.

You have to break eggs to make omelets, the say­ing goes. Yes, but you don’t have to drop the eggs on the floor to break them.

Pres­i­dent Trump was sent to Wash­ing­ton to fix a bro­ken sys­tem, not com­plain more loudly about how bro­ken it is. Vot­ers can do that them­selves. He cer­tainly was not sent to make things worse.

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