Wayne's Words: Obamacare, and lights on the flag pole!

Wayne Horne | 11/17/2016, 6 a.m.
The national elections are over and everyone is anxious to see what and how soon major campaign issues will be ...

The national elections are over and everyone is anxious to see what and how soon major campaign issues will be addressed. One of the most contentious issues on the agenda is “Obamacare.” Before we get too deep in the issue a few clarifications are in order.

The first is the name itself. Obamacare is the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act is Obamacare. They are one and the same. The second clarification is that all of the plans, whether purchased on the government’s Marketplace website or directly from an insurance carrier, are exactly the same plans. The only difference is that a Marketplace plan may provide a subsidy if the individual qualifies based on income. A third clarification is that the individuals most affected are those not covered by group insurance which covers about 80 percent of the population.

That’s the difference. The insurance plans themselves are products of insurance carriers and not the government. Premiums are paid to insurance companies and not the government. I detect some confusion in the audience. It’s no wonder, because most people get their health insurance through an employer.

In fact, most provisions in the ACA (Obamacare) for employer plans have not been implemented. From my point of view, based on 45 years of experience, I have serious doubts most of the elected officials and those recently elected have a grasp on how it works. That’s strictly an observation but it does come from experience.

I could go on but the complexities aren’t addressable in this format. The real issue is not healthcare but how do we finance a system on a cost effective and efficient basis that covers everyone. As of this date there have been few viable options offered to improve or replace the ACA. In fact, the biggest players in all of this are the insurance companies themselves. Since the plans being most criticized are in fact theirs, why haven’t they weighed in?

Speaking of healthcare, the 2017 Medicare numbers were released to the public this week. Like all healthcare plans in the U.S. the cost of Medicare for seniors is going up. It should come as no surprise, but the miniscule increase of .3 per cent in Social Security payments will be wiped out by the rise in Medicare premiums and deductibles.

For most seniors, the cost for Part A Medicare remains $0 but the deductible will increase from $1,288 for a hospital stay to $1,316 or $28 more. Most Medicare supplements seniors have will cover the difference, but be prepared for an increased premium for the supplemental plan, anywhere from five to ten percent per month. The Part B deductible at the doctor’s office will increase from $166 to $183 annually. Many supplements will either cover the increased cost or be reflected in a slightly lower premium increase.

For instance, a couple receiving $2500 per month Social Security benefit will see an increase of about $7.50 a month. If both pay their Part B premium through a Social Security benefit deduction they will actually receive less of a benefit payment per month in 2017 than in 2016. That doesn’t include the increased cost of any supplement premium increases. Welcome to senior healthcare expense.

One last thing… the Joliet City Council directed City Manager Jim Hock to remove all deteriorated U.S. flags from city-owned flag pavilions and not display them until the flag staffs are equipped with lighting. The suggested lights for the pavilions will be commercial solar lamps first suggested in this column several months ago.

The Council will also work on an ordinance that will assure all city-owned flags in various locations in Joliet will be replaced in the future at least two times a year. Further, the city manager committed to running electrical connections for permanent lighting in those locations where it is practical.

Thank you, City Council, for “putting lights on the flag”.

Stay tuned…