The real story of Obamacare

Willow Kanowshy listens during an Affordable Care Act information session in the student union on Oct. 1 at Phoenix College in Phoenix.

It's been kind of appalling to watch this slow-motion train wreck of lousy Obamacare news coverage, but this week the Los Angeles Times has a good reality check of what's really going on with all those canceled policies that are getting so much attention. The bottom line is that these policies are, for the most part, total junk insurance, or, you could call it, "health insurance;"

Back in March, Consumer Reports published a study of many of these plans and placed them in a special category: "junk health insurance." Some plans, the magazine declared, may be worse than none at all.

Consumer Reports is right. Plans with monthly premiums in the two figures marketed to customers in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s invariably impose ridiculously low coverage limits. They've typically been pitched to people who couldn't find affordable insurance because of their age or preexisting conditions, or who were so financially strapped that they were lured by the cheap upfront cost.

"People buy a plan that's terrible," says Nancy Metcalf, CR's senior project editor for health, "and if they get sick, they don't even know they don't have insurance."

An example from CR: A plan costing $65 a month held by Judith Goss, 48, a Michigan department store employee. When Goss was diagnosed with breast cancer, she discovered the drawbacks of the policy's coverage limits of $1,000 a year for outpatient treatment and $2,000 for hospitalization -- barely enough to cover a day and half a Tylenol in the hospital. She delayed treatment, so her cancer got much worse before she finally opted for surgery. Those sorts of coverage limits are illegal  come Jan. 1.

A couple of things to note: The group we're talking about -- that's been the focus of a huge amount of news coverage over the last few days -- is just a tiny sliver of the health insurance market. And -- I can't repeat this enough -- the news coverage has been horrendous in a) warning people how this would play out and b) explaining what's actually happening now that it's happening. Basically, under Obama they're ending insurance that was only slightly better than a Ponzi scheme, and requiring folks in this sliver of the market to have a plan that actually insures you; it means you may pay a little more every month, even after subsidies, but it will save you money over time unless you never see a doctor.

So people should shut up and stop whining? Yes and no. You're going to be hearing two competing stories in the weeks ahead. Some will be testimonials from people who are grateful to afford actual insurance for the first time in years. Others will be rants from people -- and I understand -- who say that being American is the freedom to act irrationally if you so desire, and if you're mainly only hurting yourself and your loved ones. In other words, the motorcycle helmet debate, writ large.

How will that play out? Stay tuned. I have this crazy hunch that we haven't heard the last of Obamacare :-)