So we’re a month into the Obamacare era. What does your average American know about it? That the website is mess, and some number of Americans have suddenly lost their coverage after Barack Obama assured them that wouldn’t happen. These things are true, and a person would be quite wrong to deny this is deeply problematic.
But I wonder how many Americans know the other side of the coin. There are already numerous success stories out there. And then there’s the side of the story that has certainly received coverage but not nearly as much as it deserves to, which is the way—did I say way? Ways—the Republican Party is trying to make sure it fails. Todd Purdum wrote a piece for Politico yesterday on the GOP’s “sabotage” of the law. It was a terrific article, but he didn’t say the half of it.
All across the country, Republican governors and insurance commissioners have actively and directly blocked efforts to make the law work. In August, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded contracts to 105 “navigators” to help guide people through their new predicaments and options. There were local health-care providers, community groups, Planned Parenthood outposts, and even business groups. Again—people and groups given the job, under an existing federal law, to help people understand that law.
What has happened, predictably, is that in at least 17 states where Republicans are in charge, a variety of roadblocks has been thrown in front of these folks. In Indiana, they were required to pay fees of $175. In Florida, which under Governor Rick Scott (who knows a thing or two about how to game the health-care system, you may recall) has been probably the most aggressive state of all here, the health department ruled that local public-health offices can’t have navigators on their premises (interesting, because local public health offices tend to be where uninsured people hang out). In West Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, and other states, grantees have said no thanks and returned the dough after statewide GOP elected officials started getting in their faces and asking lots of questions about how they operate and what they planned to do. Tennessee issued “emergency rules” requiring their employees to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.
America, 2013: No background checks to buy assault weapons. But you damn well better not try to enroll someone in health care.
If you Google “Obamacare navigators,” you will be hit smack in the fact with the usual agitprop. “Reports” raise “questions” about their qualifications, you see. This is the old trick of finding one bad apple and extrapolating away to beat the band. But in this case the alleged bad apple wasn’t even bad. One enrollment assister in Lawrence, Kansas—one!—had an outstanding warrant. She hadn’t even been aware of the warrant. The group she worked for said, apparently credibly, that the warrant was “no longer active.” (Interestingly under the circumstances, it was about… an unpaid medical bill!) But my favorite story linked—inevitably—the navigator program to ACORN. You will recall that no one ever proved that anybody from ACORN ever did anything wrong, but of course in right-wing land this means nothing.
A second front: Now, with people trying to sign up, some Republican legislators are openly saying that they won’t permit their staffs to answer constituents’ questions about Obamacare. This is really the main job of a member of Congress, especially a House member: People call up all the time with questions about how to slice their way through the federal government’s briar patches, and you have caseworkers on duty—typically a couple in Washington and several more back home in the district regional offices—whose job is exactly that.
Purdum quoted Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp as saying he instructs his staff to refer callers to Kathleen Sebelius. But Huelskamp is not alone. Tennessee’s Diane Black says she doesn’t feel comfortable referring people to navigators. Utah’s Jason Chaffetz is referring people back to the administration, saying: “We know how to forward a phone call.”
Someone I know asked the other day: Has there ever been a law in the history of the country as aggressively resisted by the political opposition as this? Republicans didn’t do this with Social Security. Most of them voted for Social Security. They didn’t do it with Medicare. They, and the Southern racists who were then Democrats, didn’t do it with civil rights. There was a fair amount of on-the-ground opposition to that, but it wasn’t orchestrated at the national level like this was. And when the Voting Rights Act was passed the year after civil rights, Southern states in fact fell in line quickly. Check the black voter-registration figures from Southern states in 1964 versus 1966. It’s pretty amazing.
No, to find obstinacy like this, you have to go back, yes, to the pre-Civil War era. The tariff of 1828, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which led to the civil war in “Bloody Kansas” and ultimately to the Civil War itself. Not comforting thought. But it’s where we are.
The administration’s cockups are a legitimate story. I’ve never said otherwise. My first column about the website was quite tough on the administration and on Obama personally, when I wrote that I found it shocking that he apparently wasn’t riding herd on staff to make damn sure the thing worked. I said on television, to some host’s surprise, that yes, I did hold him accountable for the mistakes.
So I get why that’s a story. But the sabotage is a story, too. A huge one. It’s almost without precedent in American history, and the precedent it does have includes some of the ugliest chapters in this nation’s history. It gets coverage, yes. But not nearly the coverage it deserves. As is so often the case—as with Benghazi, as with Fast and Furious, as with the IRS—the bigger scandal is on the Republican side.