The recent debate over the potential repeal and replacement of the ACA, with the current focus on coverage for preexisting conditions, has drawn a great deal of attention to the concept of health insurance. While our political leaders are constantly talking about it, few of them seem to understand the “insurance” component of health insurance. As a result, much of what they say about preexisting condition coverage is gibberish. We are here to set the record straight.
At its most basic level, insurance provides protection against the risk of unexpected financial losses. We focus on the term risk because if we were risk neutral (i.e., we were indifferent between sure things and actuarially equivalent gambles), then we would not value this protection. But nearly all of us are risk averse, meaning that we would rather not face having to dramatically reduce consumption of everything we enjoy in the event we are hit with an astronomical medical bill. Because we are risk averse, health insurance improves our collective well-being by helping us collectively smooth our consumption. Everyone who purchases insurance consumes somewhat less of everything else when healthy, but does not have to consume dramatically less when sick.
Amid the rancorous debates over the Affordable Care Act, one provision deserves to be getting serious discussion.
It’s a provision that allows employers to increase the amount that they may fine their employees for “lifestyle” conditions, such as being overweight or having high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Almost 37% of Americans are overweight or obese. The supposed goal is to use financial penalties to reduce obesity, the health costs of which exceed $200 billion per year. But this idea, while well intended, will not help Americans suffering from obesity, a medically defined disease and disability. In fact, it will likely make their situation worse.
For years, the country’s “wellness” industry has offered health-enhancement and obesity-reduction programs to corporations, from gym memberships to dietary counseling. For obesity, this approach has not worked. Research on these programs shows that they have not significantly reduced weight or cholesterol levels, or improved any other health outcomes.
Even the most successful programs, such as Weight Watchers, achieve an average two-year weight loss of only about 3% for their members— and even that tiny weight loss often returns later.
The Republican plan targets many of the most unpopular parts of the Affordable Care Act such as expensive mandated benefits and the resulting lack of choice, the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and age-rating disruptions.
My sense is that most independent voters––the ones that matter in an election-year––don’t want Obamacare repealed; they want it fixed.
The problem for Republicans is that they have such a visceral response to the term “Obamacare” that they just can’t bring themselves to fix it. The notion that Obamacare might be fixed and allowed to continue as part of an Obama legacy and as a Democratic accomplishment is something they can’t get past.
So, the only way Republicans can propose an alternative to Obamacare is to first wipe the health insurance reform slate clean and start over.