The Obamacare War Is Over

Obamacare Signups by Month

That graph comes from an excellent article today by Jonathan Cohn, Obamacare Signups Hit 8 Million. And I will come back to the article and this bit of excellent news. But I present it now as an object of magical properties—for conservatives. They see that huge spike in March and they shout, “The administration has been cooking the books!” And indeed: the administration projection was that March would only have modestly increased signups compared to February.

But I think of myself as very normal when it comes to these things. And do you know when I signed up? Not at the last minute! No, I gave myself a whole day for error: I signed up on 30 March. So the March signup surge—and even more, the late March surge—strikes me as entirely believable. The only thing that I’m surprised about is why the administration didn’t predict it.

Dylan Scott wrote a great article at Talking Points Memo about the Republican reaction to the administration’s recent good news, House GOP Leaders Take up The Banner of Obamacare Trutherism. He focused on House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s “debunking” of the original 7 million figure. There are a couple of interesting things in it. First, it is not a debunking; it is just a list of questions. Second, the questions are really minor—some of which have already been answered and cut against the Republican case.

The best question is, “How many paid their first month’s premium but not their second or third?” This follows after the talking point we’ve heard the last two months, “Sure, people are signing up; but they aren’t paying!” Now we know that most are paying—Blue Cross Says “80-85” Percent Of Obamacare Enrollees Are Paying. So now the Republicans push it out to the third month. Did they pay for three straight months? After that it will be six month and before you know it, they will want numbers on the 75-year planning period of Social Security. Have the signups paid until they died?

But as Cohn noted, the news is shockingly good. Even if you assume that only 80% of the people who signed up are actually going to pay for their insurance, that’s still 6.4 million people—roughly what the expectations were without the disastrous website rollout. But the good news isn’t just the number of people who have signed up. The demographics indicate that young people are signing up at exactly the rate they signed up the first year for Romneycare in Massachusetts. There was no “death spiral” then and so there will be no “death spiral” now.

All along in the journey of Obamacare, the reality has outpaced the predictions. And on that issue, Jonathan Chait made a great point this afternoon, Obama Declares Obamacare Victory:

For all the Sturm und Drang, implementing a successful health-care reform was not actually very hard, for the simple reason that the United States started with the worst-designed health-care system in the industrialized world. When you spend far more on health care than any country, and you’re also the only advanced democracy that denies people access to medical care, it’s incredibly easy to design a better system…

If it’s so easy to massively improve health care, why didn’t it happen before? Because passing a health-care reform through Congress is incredibly hard. The system’s waste created an enormous class of beneficiaries with a vested interest in the status quo. And the insecurity of private insurance made Americans terrified of change (which was necessarily complex).

And this is what conservatives have never understood. They act as if reforming health care is a mere matter of drawing up a health-care plan on paper and rounding up the votes, something they could do anytime they really feel like getting around to it, rather than a Herculean political task. They further convinced themselves that administering the new law would prove devilish if not impossible. They had it backwards.

I would only counter by noting that just because Republicans claim healthcare is easy, doesn’t mean they believe that. They just don’t want healthcare. That’s why the only plans they ever get behind are comprised of the same conservative wishlist: “health care tax breaks for individuals, letting people buy insurance across state lines, health savings accounts, tort reform, partially privatizing Medicare, and turning Medicaid over to the states.” None of these items would improve access to or cost of healthcare. The last thing they want is for our healthcare system to be fixed.

What we have right now is a transitional period for the conservatives. McCarthy’s “debunking” is just part of the process of saving face. Eventually, the Republicans will get on with redefining the status quo as including Obamacare. There will always been rhetoric about repealing it, just as conservatives today rant about that socialist FDR and how Social Security should be overturned. But apart from some minor scrimmages, the war is over. America won. The Republicans lost.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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