One of the many perks of my job is the opportunity to interact with insurance professionals who are passionate about their work. I've come to doubly appreciate this benefit while covering the difficult birth of Obamacare, where the thoughtful voice of public health experts often goes unheard amid the din of political hyperbole.
So it was my pleasure to bump into yet another voice of reason last week when health policy professor Richard Palmer of Florida International University in Miami agreed to be my fellow guinea pig on opening day of our Florida state health insurance marketplace.
Like many Americans, we spent the morning watching whirling screen clocks spin on the HealthCare.gov site. Neither of us gained access to the health plan pages that day, and while that wasn't a huge surprise, Palmer sensed beforehand exactly how it would go.
Expert had a hunch about rough launch
"I do medical research, and what I find interesting is the marketplace set-up is similar to some of the functions that I have to use when I register with the National Institutes of Health," Palmer says. "It has that same very bureaucratic feel to it."
Like most health experts I've interviewed these past four years, Palmer applauds the insurance reforms in the Affordable Care Act: no-cost preventive care, guaranteed insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, the end of lifetime benefit limits, no more rate discrimination against women, and so forth.
But also like many of his colleagues, Palmer is dubious at best that a federal marketplace program that attempts to enlist states in imposing market dynamics on private insurers can deliver the universal coverage we need, especially in states that adamantly oppose the forced marriage.
"The federal government just isn't a consumer-driven entity; it's pretty much bureaucrats in D.C. trying to dictate health policies to states. And as we know, if your state is not very supportive of the ACA, you're going to have a lot of clashing ideas," he says.
Florida is a case in point
Palmer says the Sunshine State is a perfect example of how the marketplace experiment could falter.
"It is the federal government's intention that the states will eventually take control of their own exchanges. That's going to be a most interesting experience here in Florida," he says. "Unless the (Republican-controlled) legislature or the political officers change, this state doesn't want anything to do with affordable care."
Still, like so many other health policy experts, Palmer predicts this win-win scenario for Obamacare: If the online marketplaces work, great. If they don't, America will be halfway to a single-payer "socialized medicine" model that's commonplace throughout the rest of the world and inevitable here, in the view of many health policy experts.
"This is a first good step to universal health care, but it just doesn't go far enough," Palmer says of Obamacare. "Unless we put health care in the tax base and control costs that way, there will never be universal health care for everyone, and ultimately, average American taxpayers will always have to be the safety-net providers for the uninsured in this country."
I'd welcome your thoughts, perhaps while you watch your state's marketplace clocks spin.
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.