Obamacare deserves better

On December 6, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana lost a run-off election to Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.  Time magazine explains why:

“Landrieu didn’t lose because of a superior opponent, but because of her association with a deeply unpopular President and his health-care law. Landrieu—the daughter of a former New Orleans mayor and the sister to the current one—lost more so than Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy won. Even Cassidy, who cruised to a win Saturday, acknowledges that to some extent. When asked to define the campaign’s turning point, he pointed to Landrieu’s support of the Affordable Care Act, which passed four years ago.”

There were other factors in her loss of course. But the idea that an otherwise good, probably superior, candidate lost primarily because of her support of Obamacare remains baffling to me. To be clear, I’m not naive. I understand the politics of the matter, so I am not baffled at that level. It’s just that I remain convinced that Obamacare is a fundamentally good idea — at least one that significantly improves the prior status quo. It doesn’t deserve the intense level of hostility and resistance in inspires among the opposition. Not even close.

The basic idea of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is this: There is an individual mandate, which means you must have health insurance. For those who can afford it, you (or your employer) pays for the insurance. For those too poor to afford it, government subsidies fill the gap.

What does the average citizen get in exchange for this?

You get guaranteed insurance coverage no matter what. Even if you lose your job and remain unemployed for an extended period of time, you remain covered. In fact, if your income drops significantly, your costs go down.

Plus, you are guaranteed that you cannot be turned down for insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition. No longer can an insurance company tell you that because you have a heart condition, or whatever, they won’t sell you insurance.

Additionally, there are more peripheral, but still important, benefits — such as allowing your children to be covered by their parents’ insurance until they are 26. This can save a family money at a time when their kids may be in school — or just getting started in a job — and unable to pay the cost on their own.

As for the people who are getting subsidized by the government, this will likely save taxpayers money in the long run. Why? Because poor people will no longer have to depend on emergency rooms in public hospitals as their primary source of health care. Seeing a general practitioner in their office (covered by Obamacare) is much less expensive than a uninsured visit to the emergency room. The overall savings here are likely to be huge.

Yes, it means that some people will be “forced” to pay for insurance that might otherwise have unwisely chosen to go without any. But it is essential that the system works this way. Otherwise, people will choose to get insurance only when they are sick (thus always getting more in benefits than they pay in) and the system would soon go bankrupt. In any case, people who already have insurance will be able to keep it, often at a lower rate than they were paying before.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Sure, I understand that this is a best-case-scenario vision of what Obamacare does. The devil, as they say, is in the details. And there are problems at the detail level. For example, for some individuals, the cost of insurance under Obamacare has turned out to be significantly more than they were paying before. In most cases, the reported problems are not intended consequences of the Act. They are the result of an imperfect implementation of the plan. No major legislation is ever perfect the first time around. Obamacare is no exception.

This doesn’t mean the solution is to repeal the act or gut its essential provisions. If Obamacare doesn’t work well in every instance, let’s improve it so it does. Let’s fix the legislation so it works as intended. In less contentious political times, this is exactly what would happen. But we do not live in such times.

It seems that the majority of those who oppose Obamacare do not view it even as a potentially good idea that needs fixing. Rather, they view it as a terrible idea that needs to be completely trashed. In many cases, I believe this is because the opposition has no clear idea what Obamacare does and does not do. They oppose it because they oppose everything President Obama does, or because they view it as an intrusion by a government that can’t be trusted, or as an expensive program that will raise taxes without any compensating benefit, or because its labeled as socialism. But these are sound-bite emotion-generating criticisms designed to get knee-jerk opposition from the Republican base.

Unfortunately, the attacks work. Which is is really frustrating — because I remain convinced that the vast majority of Americans, including most people who oppose Obamacare, would support the legislation if they could shed their political biases and really look at what it accomplishes. The truth is the vast majority of Americans will be better off, financially and healthfully, under Obamacare. It’s certainly a improvement over the pre-existing unfair and increasingly expensive system that still left millions uninsured. It’s not as if Obamacare is a case of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Polls have shown that most people support the individual components of Obamacare — if the question is asked in a way that does not link the component to the legislation. Similarly, recall that the basic ideas behind Obamacare were originally proposed by Republicans. Heck, even health insurance companies now see Obamacare as a potential win. And yet, opposition to Obamacare remains so viscerally intense that it can be the determining factor in a Senate election in Louisiana. Obamacare deserves better.

Sadly, it may yet turn out that Obamacare never gets the chance to prove itself — thanks to the fear-mongering and distortions by a Republican Congress abetted by conservative political action groups, a conservative-friendly Supreme Court and talk radio hosts intent on using the issue for political gain. If that happens, it will be a loss for all of us.

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