by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Washington Examiner‘s editorial staff offers a useful reminder about the difference between access to Obamacare and access to health care.
With the administration declaring victory because the law is now subsidizing health insurance for millions of Americans, it’s a good opportunity for a reminder that there’s an important distinction between health insurance and healthcare access.
Obamacare expands insurance coverage in two main ways — by broadening eligibility for Medicaid and by providing subsidies for individuals to purchase insurance on government-run exchanges. But just because new enrollees have something that can be called health insurance, it doesn’t mean they can rely on it when they want to see their preferred doctor or local hospital.
To start, because Medicaid pays medical providers so little, many providers simply refuse to accept beneficiaries of the program. One survey by Merritt Hawkins last year found that nearly 40 percent of doctors either limited the number of Medicaid enrollees they see, or don’t accept Medicaid patients at all.
But this may understate the access problem. As part of an investigation, the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services made calls to Medicaid managed care providers who were actually listed as accepting Medicaid patients. “We found that slightly more than half of providers could not offer appointments to enrollees,” the report revealed.
Obtaining “private” insurance through a government-run Obamacare exchange doesn’t eliminate these access problems. Because Obamacare imposed a raft of regulations on insurance policies, insurers were forced to respond in several ways to cover the increased costs. One way was to hike premiums, a phenomenon that’s been described as “rate shock.” But another way has been to slash the number of doctors and hospitals that are included in their coverage network. Such “narrow network” plans have already triggered a wave of lawsuits in California.
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