If anyone expected President Obama to be cowed, apologetic or remorseful Monday when he answered a barrage of criticism about the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act's website—which even he admitted “stank”--they must have been very disappointed.
As the president noted, the ACA is a law with many provisions that are immensely helpful to consumers, many of which are already in force.
“There’s a wide range of consumer protections and benefits that you already have,” said the president. “You may not have noticed them, but you’ve already got them, they’re not going anywhere and they aren’t depending on a website.”
Do you like the idea that your children can remain on your insurance plans until they turn 26? Do you like the idea that mammograms and birth control are fully covered by your insurer? Do you like the idea that health insurers cannot turn you away because you have hypertension, diabetes, asthma or were once treated for a yeast infection?
If you answer yes, as much as it may pain you, you like Obamacare.
Though Obamacare opponents have worked themselves into a delighted lather over the problems that have plagued Healthcare.gov, the website where the uninsured can comparison shop and sign-up for healthcare insurance, Obama rightly noted the website is not health insurance. The website is not Obamacare.
It is a mechanism to purchase Obamacare. And it’s only one of several. You can also purchase insurance the old-fashioned way—by phone, mail or in person.
For many individuals and small businesses, the technological failures plaguing the roll-out are merely temporary roadblocks to an important destination.
“This is an overwhelming task, and the fact that there are technical problems are not all that strange and should not get in the way of the transformation of an entire system – that is, how we buy health insurance,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and chief executive of the advocacy group Small Business Majority.
Arensmeyer, who founded an e-commerce company, said his group has embraced ACA because it will help lower healthcare costs for small businesses and give them more choice in the insurance market. The glitches are not a huge concern to his members, he said.
“Small business people tend to be ‘get this thing done’- type of people,” he said. “We’re more interested in getting it fixed than in assigning blame.”
Still, as the president is fond of saying, elections have consequences. Among those consequences: Taking responsibility for the screw ups that happen on your watch to programs you champion.
It’s important to hold the Obama administration accountable for the website's bungled Oct. 1 debut. Someone’s got to step up and explain exactly why the government, which had three years to create the system, so badly executed the mission.
So watch now as Republicans, stung by their humiliating defeat over the government shutdown, try to turn the problem-plagued healthcare website into a Benghazi-style faux scandal, complete with overheated hearings and calls for the head of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
(The National Review has launched a petition drive to have her fired. As with most online petitions, it appears to be a thinly veiled method of compiling email and mailing addresses for future exploitation. )
One expects the anti-Obama noise machine to manufacture phony victims, and the cacophony has been intense. Eric Stern, who was senior counsel to former Montana Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, decided to truth-squad a trio of couples who appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News TV show to spread disinformation.
“As Hannity called on each of them, the guests recounted their ‘Obamacare’ horror stories: canceled policies, premium hikes, restrictions on the freedom to see a doctor of their choice, financial burdens upon their small businesses and so on,” Stern wrote in Salon. “'These are the stories that the media refuses to cover,’" Hannity interjected.
But none of their stories checked out, Stern wrote. One couple said they couldn’t grow their business because of Obamacare, but they only had four employees and thus are exempt.
The two other couples had not investigated what their costs would be, but Stern found each would probably save 60% or more on their monthly premiums.
“I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange,” he wrote. “And some of them appear to have taken actions based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare.”
Last week, I looked into a bogus claim that Bonnie Doon Ice Cream Corp., an Indiana company, was forced to close its doors because of anticipated healthcare costs under the new law.
“I don’t have their financial statements in front of me,” Arensmeyer said, “but it’s hard to believe that the ACA is enough of a reason to go out of business. That just strains credulity.” (And this is a small-business advocate talking.)
This is not to say that Obamacare will not cause any financial pain. It’s important for the president to at least acknowledge that some people will be faced with higher healthcare premiums.
Last month, the San Francisco public affairs show KQED Forum got a call from a 56-year-old San Jose man named Mark Brown who said his monthly Kaiser premiums would nearly double.
Lisa Aliferis, who edits KQED’s State of Health blog was skeptical. So she investigated, and it turns out that Brown, who said he supported the ACA, was right. His premiums are rising from $272 to $519 for roughly the same coverage.
Aliferis contacted a number of experts, some of whom were initially as dubious as she...until they realized Brown was correct. As one told her:
“I know that people are going to feel like they are getting the short end of the stick because they are having to pay more for their health insurance. Unfortunately there are winners and losers under the ACA,” said Gerald Kominski at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, echoing Mark Brown. ”When we weigh everything, the reforms benefit many more people than they harm, but these are the most disadvantaged in the marketplace.”
Eventually, the computer problems will be fixed, and Obamacare will be judged on its merits.
Until then, the president doesn’t need to be defensive or apologetic about enacting an ambitious program that will allow America’s uninsured citizens to finally have some measure of health security. But continuing to maintain that no one will feel any pain from the new system is disingenuous.
Still, let’s not forget: When we speak of discomfort in this new world order, we are speaking of people who will feel a pinch in their wallets, not actual, physical pain.
For actual, physical pain, they can see a doctor. Because they'll have health insurance.