Politics

11.12.13

Earl Pomeroy Doesn’t Regret the Obamacare Vote That Ended His Career

No question, the HealthCare.gov rollout has been a ‘disaster,’ says ex-Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy. But though voting for Obamacare cost him his House seat, he thinks it will succeed.

For Earl Pomeroy, who represented North Dakota in Congress for nine terms before losing in 2010, in part over his vote for the Affordable Care Act, the rollout of HealthCare.gov has been a disaster. The former Democratic congressman, once his state’s insurance commissioner and now a health-care lawyer in Washington, D.C., says he was distraught at the problems surrounding the launch of Obamacare, describing it “as bad a public relations debacle as you can imagine.” However, despite the damage the Affordable Care Act did to his political career and the bug-ridden start of the program, he says he’s confident in its eventual success and still believes supporting it was the right choice.

Asked if he regretted his vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Pomeroy told The Daily Beast he didn’t. The need for affordable health care “goes right to the solar plexus of the middle class,” he said. “...That was why I cast a vote that I felt could very well end my career, and it did.”

Prior to the passage of Obamacare in 2010, the health-care system was defined by “the erosion of meaningful health coverage for the American people,” Pomeroy said. Insurance companies were unsuccessful at reining in medical cost increases and instead focused on reducing their own risk exposure with “more rigorous underwriting standards and by shrinking coverage provided to those with insurance,” he said. The result, in Pomeroy’s opinion, was “an insurance system where many faced complete exposure [if a major illness hit], and many with coverage faced more exposure than they would have known.” Despite the many flaws in the design and rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which Pomeroy said was “more complicated than it needed to be,” it was still better than the alternative.

The former congressman, who opposed a shift to a single-payer health-care system during the debate over Obamacare, described the law as an attempt to “jerry-rig a private insurance system into a program that more broadly spreads risk and assures that everyone can get coverage.” With the law so complicated already, Pomeroy said he “assumed that the part of the task regarding constructing technological infrastructure would have highest priority and be done competently.” That turned out not to be the case.

“Not everything resolves itself instantly, and [the American people] just need a little more policy patience.”

Still, he said, the deadlines for enrollment are months away, and he didn’t think many people would sign up to pay a premium on October 1 for coverage that would start January 1.

Government workers and contractors are now hard at work to ensure that HealthCare.gov “will operate smoothly for the vast majority of consumers” by November 30, to guarantee that uninsured Americans can enroll in health-care plans by the end of the year, according to Jeffrey Zients, the Obama appointee in charge of working out the site’s kinks. Many experts say that even this threshold will be difficult to achieve, however.

In the meantime, Pomeroy says he is confident that the “core of the program is sound.”

“Not everything resolves itself instantly, and [the American people] just need a little more policy patience,” he added.