Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When in doubt, blame Obamacare

It was not unexpected that I would receive some pushback on last week’s commentary, which featured (drum roll, please) a discussion about the Affordable Care Act or – what it is has come to be widely known as – Obamacare.

Critics included an old friend – Joanne Limbach – who happens to be a Democrat, a former county commissioner, former Ohio tax commissioner, former and current Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District trustee and former president of the Ohio chapter of AARP, which formerly was known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

(Sidebar: AARP no longer cares whether you are retired. In fact, there likely will come a time when no one is retired because no one will be able to afford to retire. Anyone over the age of reason can now join AARP. Seriously, there are more members with jobs than actually are retired.)

What I said in my commentary was that the hysteria over the law, which as of this writing was to take effect Tuesday, might have some legs because of the announcement a few weeks ago by the Cleveland Clinic that it had to cut $330 million from its budget because of “healthcare reform.”

Limbach told me in no uncertain terms that it’s a bunch of phooey to blame the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“The reason why hospitals are counting on less revenue, and lots and lots of less revenue, at least in Ohio, is because our General Assembly has not passed Medicaid expansion,” Limbach wrote in an email.

“In the Medicaid Expansion legislation is the money to pay hospitals for their coverage of the uninsured via emergency care. They have had this reimbursement for some time. But this time the funding is in a different section.

“The Ohio Hospital Association and much of the health care industry are prepared to spend around $20 million to get the expansion on the ballot for Nov. 14. They have already cleared the first step with the Ohio Secretary of State for the ballot issue.

“The irony is that the governor who does not support the ACA does passionately support Medicaid Expansion. He understands how the money is really helpful and necessary for hospitals and the state’s budget will be greatly helped. It means economic development as well as healthy Ohioans.”

Clinic spokesman Eileen Sheil was quoted in the Plain Dealer and by other media outlets as saying, “Healthcare reform has really changed things, and the burden of cost is going to be falling on patients. We want to make sure we can keep care affordable.”

Well, that sounds like she’s blaming Obamacare for the cutbacks, but, as Limbach claims, is she really?

After I received Limbach’s email, I set to work again to find out whether there was a link to the Clinic’s budget cuts and Obamacare. The Atlantic, a respected monthly news and issues magazine, vetted the reports.

Reporter David A. Graham tracked down Sheil for his piece in the Atlantic, headlined: “Obamacare Isn’t Really Taking Away Jobs: Cleveland Clinic Edition.”

“In fact, the ‘Obamacare is killing jobs’ story isn’t really accurate,” he wrote.

“It’s not totally false – the Cleveland Clinic will in fact take in less money because of the law – but it’s a more complicated story about changes in medicine. When I reached Sheil on Thursday, she seemed a bit confused by the emphasis on Obamacare in reports. ‘We’ve been working on reducing costs for years,’ she said.
“‘We felt health-care reform was absolutely necessary,’ Sheil said. ‘This is the new normal. This is where hospitals have to focus to be viable in the long run. This is not doomsday for the clinic. We’re still growing – we’re still hiring. The hardest thing is when it affects people.’”

So, there you have it, folks. Crystal clear, right?

Nothing is crystal clear any longer it seems. Not Obamacare. Not government shutdown. Not managed bankruptcies. Not the Democrat nor the Republican platforms.

I think we’ll have to see where all this takes us, and then make the appropriate changes to correct the errors.

The new normal?

Oh, yippee.

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.