As I spoke with Chief Financial Officer Jim Brunnemer, this week, his reluctance to engage the Most Powerful Man in the World in a rhetorical exchange was both evident and wise. Nevertheless, Brunnemer made it equally clear that he disagrees with the president's assertion, made this week in Boston, that only Americans “who've got cut-rate plans that don't offer real financial protection in the event of serious illness or accident” would experience cancellations.
“We've been selling individual policies since 2008, and there have been aspects (of the plans) that some people didn't like, while others could get reasonable coverage at a low price,” said Brunnemer, noting that the plans did not offer all 10 of the “essential health benefits” now required under Obamacare.
The president insists such plans are “substandard.” But why would a single 60-year-old man voluntarily buy maternity coverage or dental and vision coverage for children he will never have?
“We are regulated by the state and (for competitive reasons) we couldn't offer an inferior product and sell it. We feel like our plans had benefit (to consumers). There will be fewer electives, with very comprehensive coverage. But more coverage makes premiums go up,” Brunnemer said.
Those price increases will vary from policy to policy and place to place, but the Manhattan Institute estimates that that Obamacare will increase the cost of new individual policies by an average of 41 percent, with the steepest hikes imposed on the very people the law needs to attract most: the young and healthy.
At PHP, those increases could range from 5 percent to 100 percent, with 90 percent of its 3,500 individual policy holders likely to need new policies by the end of 2014. The remaining 10 percent are “grandfathered” and can keep their plans unless the policies change substantially.
As I said, Brunnemer hardly sounds like Rush Limbaugh when discussing Obamacare's potential impact on his company and customers. “We're in the insurance business, and it makes sense for people to have coverage,” he said. “You can say to yourself, 'I'm healthy, but you don't know when you're going to come down with a chronic condition.”
And so he talks about “tweaking” the law, not abolishing it, suggesting an increase in the penalty for not having insurance — $95 for an individual or 1 percent of family income in the first year – might compel more people to seek coverage.
Brunnemer knows more about insurance than I – or Obama — ever will. But I do know when a politician is in trouble, and Obama's transparent attempt to rewrite his own history while seeking to transfer the blame to others is the epitome of desperation. In the electronic age, it's simply impossible to explain away statements like “If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period." (June 15, 2009) with revisionism like “What we said was, you could keep it if it hasn't changed since the law was passed” (Nov. 5).
But in the end, the president's convenient condemnation of “bad-apple” insurers is really nothing less than paternalism masquerading as consumer protection. Nobody forced those 3,500 people to buy PHP policies, after all, and people who wanted maternity care could have paid extra for it had they chosen to do so.
But the president and other Obamacare bureaucrats think they know what's good for all those benighted Americans who for some reason don't want to pay for coverage they cannot possibly use.
There's a term for that kind of psychiatric disorder, so perhaps it's just as well that mental-health coverage is among Obamacare's 10 essential benefits.
Too bad top federal officials have exempted themselves.