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Health care deadline arrives but there's still time

Herb Boyd | 1/9/2014, 1:15 p.m.

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, a shorthand term), some are seeking to extinguish it in both name and deed. It also seems to matter less whether you are on the left or the right nowadays in determining its worth, at least if you’re listening to liberals such as documentarian Michael Moore and Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins Jr.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Moore basically lambasted Obamacare, declaring it “is awful.” What irks Moore more than anything is that the health plan falls far short of the ideal of the single-payer system, a plan he charges that President Barack Obama himself once endorsed. It’s not a sustained gripe and one that eventually tapers off, and he concludes, “Obamacare is a godsend.”

However, before he reaches his final conclusion, Moore takes exception to the word “affordable” and offers this example: “The cheapest plan available for a 60-year-old couple making $65,000 a year in Hartford, Conn., will cost $11,800 in annual premiums. And their deductible will be $12,600. If both become seriously ill, they might have to pay $25,000 in a single year.”

Moore’s screed, for the most part, would not be out of place on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, where Jenkins takes his measure on things liberal. Unlike Moore, he opens with praise for Obamacare, saying, “It provides fabulous benefits for some Americans,” but he shifts quickly into a conservative gear, noting that the benefits are delivered “to some at the expense of others.” In effect, Obamacare for Jenkins amounts to nothing more than “redistribution, not reform.”

Jenkins starts off on the left but ends up on the right, and Moore starts on the right and ends up on the left. Is there a moderating voice on this issue?

There are several things about Obamacare that are indisputable, though we are mindful that by offering the views of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, they are clearly tendentious.

“It’s now against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage or charge you more because of a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma,” Sebelius wrote in a commentary addressed to the nation. “And they can no longer drop you from coverage just because you get sick or get into an accident.”

Nor can companies impose an annual cap on your health benefits or deny you coverage if you entered an error on your paperwork, she added. “Most plans must now cover preventive services—such as cholesterol and cancer screenings—at no out-of-pocket cost. And being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.”

Moreover, as if to address Moore’s example above, Sebelius noted that a family of four earning $50,000 a year can obtain affordable coverage for as little as $115 a month (with premium tax credits). She said that six in 10 uninsured Americans can get coverage for as little as $100 a month or less.

Currently, more than 2 million people have signed up for Obamacare, and the system seems to be up and running smoothly at the government’s website. Even so, there is concern about who the insured newcomers are because so much depends on getting younger people aboard. There also remains a number of states where Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid that would allow subsidies for those unable to pay the premiums. Those still uninsured have until March 31, but if they want the policy to kick in by Feb. 1, they have to sign up by Jan. 15.

Moore’s dream of a single-payer system may not be entirely a lost cause. Some elements of it may arrive in Vermont in about four years, he speculates. “If it flies, it will change everything, with many states sure to follow suit by setting up their own versions,” he wrote.

In the meantime, don’t hold your breath, because you may need coverage for that too.