Members of Congress shocked to discover health care system sucks

Senator David Vitter (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Senator David Vitter (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Right now, one of the primary ways Congressional Republicans are attacking Obamacare is to cite the sob stories of Congressional staffers — and lawmakers themselves — who are having a bad experience with the law. Thanks to a bit of Republican legislative trolling that forced Members and their staffs onto the exchanges to make a political point, some are discovering that premiums are higher than they would have expected, having previously enjoyed the protection of government benefits that essentially shielded them from reality.

But if anything, the fact that Members of Congress are now having an unpleasant brush with the American health care system is a good thing. These Members are experiencing the same American health care system that the uninsured and people with preexisting conditions have been experiencing for many years. They are being forced to face the fact that American health care costs a lot, which, of course, is one of the reasons reform is so hard.

The health care system is already deeply unjust. A good article in the New York Times sheds light on this, and on how Obamacare is changing things for the better:

More than 243,000 have signed up for private coverage through the exchanges…and more than 567,000 have been determined eligible for Medicaid…For many, particularly people with existing medical conditions… the coverage is proving less expensive than what they had. Many others are getting health insurance for the first time in years, giving them alternatives to seeking care through free clinics or emergency rooms — or putting it off indefinitely.

Kevin Drum adds a related note about how hospitals routinely gouge uninsured people for everything they’ve got:

A heart attack that gets billed—profitably!—to Blue Cross at $50,000, can end up costing you $200,000 if you’re unlucky enough to suffer that heart attack while you’re uninsured. Think about that: for decades, the health care industry has deliberately taken ruthless advantage of the very people who are the weakest and most vulnerable—those who are poor or unemployed… It’s shameless and obscene. It’s like kicking a beggar and stealing his coat just because you know the cops will never do anything about it.

Obamacare, by slowing bringing everyone into the insurance system, will eventually stop this. Compare that to Rep. Michael McCaul (who with at least $114 million is the second-richest member of congress) complaining that the new plans on the DC health exchange are expensive.

This sort of experience is unvarnished good news. Finally, wealthy members of congress are getting a tiny, tiny taste of how the healthcare sector actually works. Five decades of skyrocketing health price inflation didn’t inspire so much as a peep when Republicans held all three branches of government. But now that Republicans have derped themselves onto the exchanges, they’re shocked, shocked at how expensive things have gotten. 

A fairer and more substantive complaint is that apparently the D.C. exchange has some glitches, and while it seems to be working well for most people, some staffers might have to get a delay in their purchase mandate. But while this complaint is easier to sympathize with, it also means that it will likely get fixed much, much faster. Congress pays a lot more attention when they are directly affected by some problem — remember how fast they exempted air traffic control from the sequester?

Now that Members of Congress are having bad health care experiences, D.C. will probably have one of the best exchanges in the entire country. When it comes to health insurance, Congress and regular people will be at least within shouting distance of each other.

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