Short-timers likely to afflict health reform

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President Barack Obama is, as he told a TV baseball audience recently, a big fan of the Chicago White Sox.  Yet, when asked by an announcer to name a few of his favorite players, the president drew a complete blank. 

Geez. Harold Baines? Frank Thomas? Carlton Fisk? He couldn’t come up with a single name, not even Goose Gossage!

We sincerely hope the president has better answers for some of the key questions that are now being raised about his recently enacted health care reform plan.

There is little doubt that ObamaCare resembles what should be called RomneyCare in Massachusetts, although presidential aspirant Mitt Romney is doing everything he can to dismiss the comparison.

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Yet, in key ways, the two plans are very similar, including a requirement forcing insurance companies to accept customers with pre-existing conditions.

This is a very appealing idea, from the consumers’ standpoint. It protects people who develop illnesses from being denied insurance coverage.

How could guaranteed coverage go wrong?

Here’s how: As the Boston Globe reported last week, thousands of Massachusetts consumers are suspected of gaming the system by buying insurance only when they need to cover a pricey medical service, like fertility treatments or knee surgery.

After treatment, they drop the coverage.

In 2009, 936 people signed up for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts coverage for three months or less. While covered, they obtained services worth four times what the average customer received. Their average claim was about $2,200 per month.

These are usually young, relatively healthy people who are making a basic financial calculation that it is cheaper to buy insurance only when they need it.

Which defeats the whole idea of insurance, which is to spread risk and expense over a large number of people.

If you could buy homeowner’s insurance after a fire, would you buy it every year? Of course not.

That’s why, if you allow people to buy insurance on demand, there must be a financial incentive or penalty to make them continue buying it when they get healthy.

Right now, in Massachusetts, that’s a monthly penalty of $93 per month imposed by state law, which is clearly cheaper than the monthly cost of insurance.

This is the same requirement that has drawn howls of protest — as well as state lawsuits — against the Obama plan.

Opponents say Americans are, for the first time, being “forced” to buy a product, insurance, by the federal government.

Of course, there’s another way to look at the problem. The insurance-buying public is currently being “forced” to cover the medical expenses of people who cannot, or will not, buy health insurance.

When you are 25 years old, having an iPhone and data plan may seem more important than helping to subsidize health insurance for geezers — until you screw up your knee playing flag football.

Massachusetts is now looking at ways to tighten up its coverage, like restricting sign-up periods for insurance, although tougher measures may be required.

We hope the Obama team is paying attention.

Congress had a dickens of a time passing health care reform. We fear, however, that the real job — making it work — has only just begun.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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