In his latest Kaiser Health News column, Jonathan Cohn points to two health care trends in today’s papers (“Firms Cancel Health Coverage“) and (“Insurers Push Plans Limiting Patient Choice of Doctors“) and explains why reform is not to blame:
Insofar as the articles report broader trends–and they may not–they actually chronicle the same basic process at work. Health care is getting more expensive; the economy is still sputtering. Employers who provide and help pay for employee coverage can react to this in one of two ways. They can stop offering insurance altogether, which is what the Globe reports some small Massachusetts firms are doing. Or they can simply offer less generous policies, which is what the Times suggest will happen in those three cities. [...]
But what about the people who watch as employers whittle down coverage, restricting which doctors and hospitals they can see? Again, this happened before and was bound to happen again–only now, thanks to health reform, the law will limit how plans can do it. They can’t impose cost-sharing for basic preventive care. They can’t impose annual or lifetime dollar caps on benefits. And while they can limit beneficiaries to certain doctors and hospitals, they have to offer beneficiaries the right to appeal treatment denials–and the right to get treatment out-of-network if it’s not available in-network.
And that’s perhaps one of the ironies of reform: critics and the general public will blame the law for causing the very same long-existing problems that it seeks to ameliorate. (Remember when conservatives faulted the new grandfather regulations for forcing Americans out of their existing insurance plans, when in reality the regulations discourageed employers and insurers from stiffing beneficiaries with very higher costs?)
Over the short term, any anxiety about the changing insurance market or the shift from employer-based coverage will be blamed on the Democrats and reform. Stories like this one about businesses anxieties and loss of employer-sponsored coverage are and will continue to dominate the media. Only successful implementation of reform and time will change this narrative.