It’ll Work

12.04.13

Rx for Obamacare: Take a Chill Pill

The Democrats are freaking out about the Obamacare rollout, and Republicans are loving it. But with public opinion on the law’s side, it’s the GOP that should be afraid.

The Obamacare website deadline has come and gone. The site is mostly fixed, but politicians in both parties remain fixated. Democrats are running scared, while Republicans can hardly hide their glee.

Both sides have it exactly backward. The GOP should be terrified, and the Democrats need to grow a spine.

First, Republicans are on the wrong side of the issue. Americans support health-care reform—and not just a little bit. In no fewer than 12 CNN polls since March 2011, a clear majority, averaging 53 percent, either support the Affordable Care Act or think it does not go far enough, with an average of 38 percent opposing the law. These results are remarkably consistent over three years of intense polling. In the most recent round of polling, supporters outnumber opponents by a good 10 percent.

Unfortunately, when the press reports these results, the roughly 12 percent who think we should go further toward national single payer health care get lumped in with conservative opponents. Although it makes no sense, this simplistic line has been repeated ad nauseam until it has ossified into accepted fact. But President Obama knows the real numbers. That is why, despite being caught out with his “you can keep it” rhetoric, he is still comfortable holding a hard line.

Republicans’ fixation on the Affordable Care Act has been very costly for them. Even though more than two-thirds of all Americans opposed their government shutdown strategy to defund Obamacare, the GOP leadership allowed radical Tea Party obstructionists to lead them off a political cliff. Why?

Because they know in their hearts Obamacare will work, and if they don’t smother it in the cradle, it’s here to stay.

Like Medicare and Social Security before it, both bitterly opposed by Republicans, Obamacare will doubtless develop into a well-run, cost-effective, and popular national fixture. Given a chance, the Affordable Care Act will provide low cost private insurance coverage to millions of Americans, including children, people with pre-existing conditions or catastrophic illnesses, college students, and those who can’t afford insurance. The mandates on electronic record-keeping, telemedicine, episodic billing, preventive medicine, and managed care increasingly will shift our health-care dollars away from wasteful overhead and expensive emergency treatments directly to doctors, hospitals, and ultimately to better outcomes.

Republicans are courting public outrage and political disaster yet again, this time in the heart of red-state America. They should be afraid.

That prospect plainly terrifies the entire GOP, Tea Partiers and establishment alike. It scares them so much that 27 states with Republican governors and/or legislatures have refused to set up exchanges, and 21 are refusing to expand Medicaid.

In my home state of Tennessee alone, we will lose $5.6 billion over the next 10 years. That money was supposed to be replaced through expanding TennCare, our state Medicaid program. But the Republican state legislature refused to take the federal dollars, denying health coverage to hundreds of thousands of our neighbors. Why?

Because they say they don’t trust the feds to come up with the money.

Along with Tennessee, several other states are already reporting hospital closings and bankruptcies. At least 5,000 health-care workers nationally have been laid off as a direct result of this knee-jerk obstructionism. Given the real demand for health insurance and solid opposition to repealing Obamacare, Republicans are courting public outrage and political disaster yet again, this time in the heart of red-state America. They should be afraid.

As for the Democrats, instead of coming unhinged every time HealthCare.gov hiccups, they ought to be holding Republicans accountable for deliberately sabotaging the website rollout. By denying all funding for web development, Tea Party hard-liners forced the administration to cut corners and make do while struggling to meet a tough deadline.

In the long run, Obama and the reformers have the winning hand in this game. The state exchanges are working well, and the federal website will be fixed in plenty of time for enrollment to proceed apace. The program will be both efficacious and cost-effective. Voters will see the obvious and hold the GOP culprits accountable.

Democrats should just chill out and stop hand-wringing. All it takes is a little backbone.