When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the release of the first draft of the federal regulations governing ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges this morning, she'll do so in front of Frager's Hardware, a 90 year old hardware store on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington. The official White House spin on the insurance exchanges is that they're marketplaces that "will offer affordable high-quality health insurance options" for families and "for small businesses that cannot afford small group health insurance." No doubt Sebelius will make similar claims today.
But the administration and the law's backers have had quite a bit of trouble getting individuals and business owners to buy this argument. Among the small business owners who aren't so sure about administration's line: the owner of Frager's. Kaiser Health News reports:
John Weintraub, the store's co-owner, is one of [the skeptics]. "I am not confident at all that Obamacare will lower my costs," Weintraub told KHN Friday. "It seems like whenever the government does get involved in something like this, it never works out."
…Like many employers, Frager's has struggled to keep pace with the rising cost of providing health insurance to its workers, Weintraub said. His store on Pennsylvania Avenue pays half the cost of coverage for its 25 full-time employees and dependents. He's been able to control some of the increase in premiums by raising the annual deductible on employees from $1,000 to $2,500. The store, though, helps pick up that extra deductible cost for employees. "We constantly have to find creative ways to keep the costs down," he said.
To be sure, Weintraub admits he hasn't followed the debate too closely (rational ignorance!). But Weintraub's less-than-enthusiastic reaction offers a telling illustration of the deep public skepticism that's continued to plague the law—public opinion about the law has gone down steadily since last year—and a reminder of the serious difficulty that the administration has had in making its case so far.
ObamaCare's backers, of course, continue to insist that once the public experiences the law's benefits, they'll come around. But they've been saying this since before the law's passage, and yet with each new round of benefits—the high-risk pools, new preventive care guarantees, coverage for adult dependents—public opinion continues to fall. Consultants who've managed to profit off the law seem to like it, but it's hardly surprising that it's popular among those who've turned the law into a new revenue stream. But maybe that suggests that Weintraub, at least, might finally see some virtue in the law after today. He told KHN that he accepted the booking in hopes that publicity from this morning's event will give his business a boost.