Jonathan Cohn

Senior Editor

Today it’s a few hundred thousand people. By next year, it will be at least a few million. Their health insurance status is changing dramatically: What they have in 2014 and beyond will look nothing like what they had in 2013 and before. For many of these people, the difference will be hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. In a few cases, it may be the difference between life and death.

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In an interview Thursday with NBC News' Chuck Todd, President Obama apologized to Americans receiving cancellation letters from insurers—and promised to investigate whether his administration could do something to help them. The apology is appropriate. Obama made sweeping promises that he should have qualified or at least explained in more detail. While most people will get to keep their plans next year, some won’t.

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Examples of Obamacare plan cancellations and premium increases are getting tons of media coverage, though you rarely hear the whole story. Some people losing their plans have insurance with huge gaps, the kind that leave you exposed to financial ruin when you get sick.

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Stories of real-life Obamacare “rate shock” have revived an old debate. Previously, health insurers could charge women higher premiums than they charged men. Insurers could also exclude maternity benefits. Obamacare prohibits those practices and conservatives are angry. Why should men have to pay higher insurance prices for services they will never use directly?

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Here are two facts that have gotten very little attention amid all the controversy about insurance plan cancellations and “rate shock.”Fact one: Thanks to Obamacare’ subsidies, several million people now have the opportunity to get private insurance at essentially no cost.Fact two: Those ultra-cheap policies are pretty threadbare. They might keep people out of bankruptcy, but they still would leave beneficiaries exposed to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses a year.

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If you’ve followed the stories of insurance cancellations related to Obamacare, you may have heard about Dianne Barrette. She’s the 57-year-old Florida realtor who was paying $54 a month for a Blue Cross insurance plan. The plan won’t be available after December. And while FloridaBlue offered her a new plan, the company told her the premium would be $591 a month. Barrette, who makes $30,000 a year and could not pay for such a plan, was flabbergasted.

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President Obama on Friday acknowledged that some people are losing their current health plans because those plans don't live up to the Obamacare's standards for benefits and pricing. The acknowledgement is true and overdue, given the president's frequent promise that "you can keep your plan" if you like it. But how many people? 

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President Obama was in Boston on Wednesday—not to watch a baseball game, but to send a message about health care reform: The idea really works. Given all the news about Obamacare lately, it’s a message the country very much needs to hear. The template for the Affordable Care Act is the reforms that Massachusetts officials enacted in 2006.

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Republicans are outraged that some Americans must give up their current insurance plans because they don't satisfy Obamacare's new regulations for benefits and pricing. Partly they are mad at President Obama, because he repeatedly said people who like their coverage would get to keep it. And that’s fine. As I said yesterday, Obama should have said "most" people, not "all" people.

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NBC's Obamacare "Scoop" Is Actually Three Years Old

But the underlying issue is a real one

Obama's statement was somewhere between an oversimplication and a falsehood. But the hysterical stories missed it.

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