Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: Obamacare's falling apart? I wonder why that might be ...

It was a "bleak week" for Obamacare, according to this summary from Politico :

"Obamacare's health insurance markets are flirting with financial disaster — and that's before Republicans have had a chance to lay their hands on the law they've vowed for seven years to repeal.

"The insurance markets, which have been bleeding money, have taken one hit after another this week, beginning with news that Humana would become the first major insurer to pull out of the market completely next year. Molina — which had expected a $60 million profit on the exchanges for 2016 — reported a $110 million loss on Wednesday, and will assess ongoing participation at a later date. 'There are simply too many unknowns with the marketplace program to commit to our participation beyond 2017,' said CEO Mario Molina.

"Other insurers are sounding alarms about the imperiled market.

"'Death spiral' is how influential Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini summed it up Wednesday morning, predicting that plans will flee, creating insurance deserts in swathes of the country. President Donald Trump blasted out Bertolini's remark in a tweet."

Let's pause right here and take stock of the political debate about these happenings. It is a fact that these developments are the latest in a string of crippling blows to the beleaguered law going back months and months . A Trump presidency was still considered impossible back when many of these bits of bad news, and others, were emerging. And yet Democrats are taking great pains to portray this week's news as somehow mostly about what's happened in the past four weeks, rather than the trends set in motion months and even years earlier.

So let's return to that Politico story and see if their claims hold up:

"The Trump administration, which hasn't yet delivered its promised repeal and replace plan to Congress, is sending mixed signals. One minute it's weakening Obamacare by taking steps that dampened enrollment. Another minute it's trying to entice insurers to stick around long enough to transition to an eventual GOP replacement — but with steps that industry analysts say may fall short.

"'I don't know that it's going to keep insurers in if they were otherwise inclined to exit,' said Caroline Pearson, an expert on the Obamacare marketplaces at consulting firm Avalere Health."

Let me reiterate the part I emphasized in that quote: The administration's maneuvers aren't likely "to keep insurers in (the marketplace) if they were otherwise inclined to exit." In other words, insurers were already doubting the wisdom of remaining in the broken marketplace created by Obamacare -- in largest part because of losses like those I quoted and linked above. The changes begun and still under consideration by the administration are simply not changing their minds about that.

And you know what? Those changes aren't designed to keep insurers in a broken marketplace. They're designed to be the first steps of scrapping and eventually replacing it. The decisions by the insurers might add pressure to Republicans to get on with the business of repeal and replace. But insurers were making those decisions based on the evident brokenness of that marketplace over the past few years. Not the lack of a solution four weeks into the new administration.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.