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4 reasons Obamacare is a train wreck: column

11:56 PM, Oct. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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The first phase of Obamacare's big test has begun. The Obama administration has spent months and millions of dollars promising people great benefits from the new government-run health insurance exchanges. Now Americans will see for themselves.

Just last week, the president promised to give Americans "high quality health insurance for less than the cost of your cellphone bill." By the way, the average monthly cell phone bill is $71.

Instead of lower health care costs and better access to care, here are four reasons for the buyer to beware.

? 1. Higher Costs: While government subsidies will ease the pain for some people, millions of others will find themselves paying much more than they paid last year. In Cheyenne, Wyo., the least expensive plan a 27-year old man can buy will cost $271 a month. That's up from $82 today.

The White House isn't even disputing that prices will be higher for many people. Now it argues consumers will spend more but get better insurance. It's also saying that prices are going up less than they previously estimated. A smaller increase is not what the President promised repeatedly over the years. He said families would pay $2,500 less per year. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration doesn't say that anymore.

Prices will vary wildly within the exchange. In California, the cheapest "silver" plan will cost a 40-year old in Los Angeles $240 a month. The same person buying the same plan in Sacramento would pay $330 a month -38 percent more.

In addition to the higher cost of the insurance itself, there will also be higher out-of-pocket costs, with higher co-payments and higher deductibles.

? 2. Losing your doctor: As a physician who practiced medicine for 25 years, I know how important it is for patients to build long-term relationships with their caregivers. The exchanges break that bond. To keep rates from going even higher, insurance companies have limited the doctors and hospitals patients can visit.

A young mother may not be able to keep seeing the pediatrician who she knows and trusts with her children's care. That's bad enough in a populated area like Washington. In rural states, tight limits on what doctor you can see can cause real problems.

? 3. Fraud and identity theft: The "navigators" hired to enroll consumers in the exchanges aren't well trained or subject to consistent background checks. Even temporary census workers had to meet tougher standards. The Obama Administration itself is warning that con artists will take advantage of confusion over the law to steal people's identities.

Beyond the potential for one-on-one fraud, security may be inadequate in the giant government "data hub." This warehouse of detailed personal information of everyone in the exchanges will be available to people in many different government agencies. The security of that database still has not been independently tested and verified.

? 4. Customer service failures: President Obama said that buying insurance through the exchanges would be like shopping at Amazon.com. It's shaping up to be much bumpier than that. Instead of simply clicking a few buttons online, many people will spend hours following up with phone calls, emails and faxes.

As recently as two weeks ago, government software couldn't reliably tell people the correct price for their insurance or their subsidies. Late last week, the administration delayed enrollment for some of its small-business exchanges.

Oregon, which has its own exchange, says that software problems will force it to delay its website. People will have to find other ways to get help signing up there. That's not how Amazon works, and it's not what the president promised.

It didn't have to be this way.

The American people knew what they wanted from health care reform. They wanted lower costs and more access to quality care. President Obama could have drafted a law that actually addressed Americans' concerns - but instead he forced through a law making health care more complicated, more uncertain and more expensive.

Let's hold the president to his promises. Coverage in the exchanges should cost less than your cell phone bill, be as easy and secure as Expedia and let you keep your doctor.

How well those promises hold up will be Obamacare's real legacy.

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