Some Philadelphians will lose their insurance plans under Obamacare—and ought to celebrate

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To hear the national media talk about it, you’d think Obamacare is a mess. Its website regularly crashes. Millions of Americans are being summarily dropped from their health insurance plans, and the “sticker shock” of the cost has left people all over the country reeling in pain, begging their Tea Party congressmen to repeal the Affordable Care Act before we all find ourselves standing in a socialist bread line. Oh, if only we’d listened to the warnings! In March, the GOP-aligned Susquehanna Polling and Research firm released a survey suggesting that Pennsylvanians, by and large, were scared of the law. Sixty percent of respondents to the poll (compared to 27 percent) thought Obamacare would raise health care prices. “The results are startling, and quite scary,” the pollster cryptically blogged.

There’s just one thing, though: That fright has largely gone away—assuming it ever actually existed—and the anger over old insurance plans getting dropped is largely misdirected.

A new non-partisan poll from Franklin and Marshall finds that Pennsylvania residents, 50 to 40 percent, don’t want Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The same poll also finds a plurality of voters think the new law will make health insurance in the state better. That’s a remarkably positive response, considering the massive number of supposedly fact-checked Obamacare horror stories we’ve seen on cable news networks claiming the law is set to kill Joe America’s small business or drive up taxes on Concerned Suburban Mom. But these stories have largely been proven false or exposed as intentionally ignorant.

Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett’s re-election campaign began its game plan—attacking potential opponent Rep. Allyson Schwartz—by making similar claims: People are being dropped from their insurance, and Schwartz said that wouldn’t happen, so Democrats must be lying liars.

Now, Corbett’s claims do have a basis in fact: 180,000 people in Western Pennsylvania have reportedly been dropped by their health insurance companies. Independence Blue Cross, based here in Philadelphia, is set to drop 45 percent of its individual market customers—although actual projections and numbers of Philadelphians who are set to get dropped from their individual plans are unknown at this time.

There are similar stories all over the country. But here’s what you won’t hear on Fox News: Those numbers reflect the fact that, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, the insurance industry is no longer allowed to offer what Consumer Reports has deemed “junk insurance”—coverage that’s often less than $100 per month, which essentially pays for nothing, particularly if you’re in dire circumstances. That’s what’s being dropped.

“The rules on insurance companies have changed,” says Shannon Mace, a public health attorney based in Philadelphia. “So, the Affordable Care Act has heightened all the regulations to, basically, level the playing field between consumers and the corporations that offer the insurance.”

Starting in 2014, most health insurance plans must abide by a regulation called the “Essential Health Benefits” It mandates that plans offer the following benefits, according to Healthcare.gov: “ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.”

That means that those complaining about Obamacare causing their plans to be dropped are fighting—whether they know it or not—for their right to do themselves harm by paying for a worthless insurance policy, something we’re guaran-damn-teed the right as Americans to be able to do. Or we were, before the Affordable Care Act.

Bill England, the Pennsylvania state director of Enroll America, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping people sign up for Obamacare, says he’s been dealing with complaints of late from people saying they’ve been getting letters from their current insurers about being dropped. “People are purchasing much better health coverage through the marketplace,” England says. “It looks like a business model shift, and the insurers are just moving away from these low-cost, low-benefit products.”

“What’s happening is, those individual health insurance plans [people are being dropped from] are not in compliance with the new rules under the ACA. They’re terminating those plans that are out of compliance,” agrees Mace. “From a public health perspective, it is a good thing. The rules have changed around health insurance companies and now they must offer a higher quality plan to folks.”

Politically, at the moment, that’s terrible—because Americans don’t like anything that smells of “red tape” or “regulations.” But while the confusion has created cringe-worthy fodder for the Sean Hannity show, it’s likely to be mostly forgotten by the time 2014 rolls around. As England says, once experts dedicated to helping people resolve their healthcare needs start talking with them about the new marketplace, they tend to realize getting dropped from their old insurance is where it’s at.

Have an Obamacare story? Are you saving or losing cash under the law? Email me: rlobasso@philadelphiaweekly.com

Randy LoBasso on Twitter, tweeting tweets: @RandyLoBasso

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