Since disclosing the disappointing enrollment numbers of Americans signing up for health insurance in the first month of HealthCare.gov, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has come under even greater fire than before. President Obama is facing criticism not just from the GOP, but from Democrats as well who are siding with their across-the-aisle peers to try to fix what many consider a complete disaster of the plan’s roll out. But while the government struggles to put their health care ducks in a row, Occupy Wall Street’s shoot off organization Strike Debt launched the Rolling Jubilee project to take matters into their own hands. The group bought up $15 million in American medical debt – and forgave it. Looking for a good research paper topic for your economics or health care classes? Consider a look at the flaws with the roll out in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – or look at the efforts of Rolling Jubilee to counter rising health care costs.
What is ObamaCare?
One of the problems with the Affordable Care Act is how little users seem to understand it. Matthew Guariglia of Heavy boiled some of the issues down in his November 16, 2013 article, “What is ObamaCare? An easy guide to the Affordable Care Act.”
- Health insurance is now legally required.
- You don’t have to buy insurance through healthcare.gov, the marketplace developed by the federal government.
- You can keep your plan, but your plan might change. In response to the Affordable Care Act laws, insurance providers have had to change many plans to make them legal – which has also jumped the sticker price for those plans.
- Prejudice against pre-existing conditions is now illegal.
What are the problems?
The roll out received a far lesser number of participants than initially expected, particularly considering there will be hefty penalties for people who do not purchase health insurance after the grace period is over. So what happened?
The first big problem was healthcare.gov itself. There were a lot of tasks the site needed to accomplish: verifying identity, matching a person with plans they are eligible for, working with state websites and enabling users to compare and enroll in plans. “That’s a staggering data and software challenge,” Tim Carmody wrote in Newsweek article “A million things could go wrong. and did” on November 1, 2013. “A lot could go wrong and did,” he continued.
Carmody noted that there was no company that had previous experience building a site for a federal health insurance exchange, and that rather than using a single company, the federal government hired several companies to create its site. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services oversaw the project – but they’re a government agency, not a software company. So while some of the problems with healthcare.gov were known in advance, the government pressed forward, and released a site that was largely untested and crashed silently, without letting users know if their Internet connection had failed or whether there was a problem with the site. Some users who were able to register did so multiple times without realizing it. Others found ubiquitous 404 screens.
Worse, many Americans received notices that they would not be able to keep their policies, which were now no longer legal due to the Act –after President Obama had promised constituents that they would be able to keep their current policies. In order to avoid utter loss of faith, 39 democrats helped the GOP sponsored “Keep Your Health Plan Act” pass in the House on Friday, November 15, 2013, which would allow insurance companies to continue offering no-longer-legal policies. The loss of support could undermine President Obama’s efforts to continue health care reform.
Rolling Jubilee project
In the meantime, the Strike Debt group, a spin-off of Occupy Wall Street, organized a “bailout of the 99 percent by the 99 percent,” Elizabeth Dilts of Reuters quoted the group’s website in “Occupy Wall Street buys $15 million of Americans’ medical debt.” Purchasing debt – particularly debt that lenders think will never be paid back – is cheap: in order to buy that $15 million, fundraisers spent $400,000, all from small, individual contributions. The group relieved 2,693 people of debt for services that Strike Debt believes should have been free.
Strike Debt receives only an address for the debtors whose debt they have purchased, according to Strike Debt member and New York University professor Andrew Ross. “One person wrote back and said that he had gone through periods of being homeless and he was trying to get back on his feet,” Ross told Dilts, noting that the group still had $200,000 to spend, and that they were considering targeting student loan debt next.
What do you think of the Affordable Care Act? Tell us in the comments.
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