Mt. Vernon Register-News

November 26, 2013

Fix website and ACA succeeds


The Register-News

---- — Bad news for CLNN, the Chicken Little News Network, that is, just about all of them lately: In states which have set up their own Affordable Care Act marketplaces, enrollment is proceeding apace. Indeed, media melodrama about “Obama’s Katrina” and similar formulations appears paradoxically to have reminded people that dependable health insurance is at last available to them and their families.

Not only doesn’t the political sky seem to be falling, but, according to the Los Angeles Times, signups in California during the first two weeks of November doubled those for the month of October. Several other states are also showing strong enrollment growth. The governors of Washington, Connecticut and Kentucky co-signed a Washington Post column about how they’re making the law work.

The indispensible Kevin Drum draws a preliminary conclusion: “It really is all about the website ... The bottom line is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare: Once Obamacare has been up and running for a while, it’s going to be pretty popular ... Just get the damn website working.”

A commenter to Drum’s blog waxes enthusiastic: “California Obamacare is 20 kinds of awesome. It took 45 minutes to sign up and it will save me between 6,000 and 11,000 dollars PER YEAR depending on whether I have to go to the doctor. And now if I want to switch jobs or be self-employed I don’t have to worry about pre-existing BS conditions that they’ve turned me down for in the past even though I’ve never had a serious disease or been hospitalized. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, not overweight ... my pre-existing crime against humanity? Over 50. If you were over 50 in the pre-ACA days, it was next to impossible to get a policy.”

A plant? Could be. Trolls are everywhere on the Internet. The fellow could be a Democratic operative typing an approved script.

However, it’s definitely true that the Affordable Care Act makes it possible to buy health insurance without first proving that you probably won’t need it. Also vanishing is the concept of “rescission,” where, say, a breast cancer diagnosis can trigger an investigation aimed at voiding your policy.

The portability of coverage under the ACA is also going to give people the enhanced economic liberty Republicans always say people should have — although what they usually mean in practice is absolute freedom for corporations while you keep quietly doing as you’re told.

Lost your job? Well, you haven’t lost your health care.

Of course Republican trolls are everywhere, too. Maybe the most amusing thing about the Washington media hullaballoo over the president’s Big Lie was how it reprised George W. Bush’s greatest hits. Was the health care debacle “Obama’s Katrina,” Obama’s “Mission Accomplished,” or “Obama’s Iraq”?

Possibly feeling sorry for the ex-rancher-turned-dog-portrait-painter, Fox News even went so far as to dub this president’s mealy-mouthed apology “Obama’s Watergate.” Meanwhile, a bunch of ostensibly liberal Washington courtier/pundits proved their independence by joining the excited throng declaring Obama’s presidency finished.

Except wait a minute. Didn’t many of the same savants declare the GOP defunct after the government shutdown a few weeks back? Well, that was melodramatic nonsense, too. While much of their intended audience dozes, headline-hungry, ratings-driven, click-soliciting news orgs act increasingly like a litter of kittens in a room full of balloons — excitedly chasing the next big political scandal or a glimpse of Miley Cyrus’ nipple.

Whichever comes first.

That’s life at CLNN, “Where the Sky Is Always Falling.”

Comparing a health insurance fib to a botched natural disaster or a catastrophic war is morally grotesque to begin with. Goodness, nobody died. If this the worst falsehood President Obama emits, he’ll go down as one of the least mendacious pols in living memory.

Also, let’s not pretend that public ignorance and sloth weren’t a big part of the problem. Anybody who paid minimal attention understood that phasing out Brand X health insurance was the whole point of the ACA. That’s probably why you never heard Mitt Romney take serious issue with Obama’s promise. He probably heard it, as did most informed people, as a mild exaggeration.

As Sarah Kliff explained on her Washington Post “Health Care Watch” blog, “the whole point of the health-care law was to eliminate insurance plans that didn’t offer robust enough coverage. Giving these plans another year on the market would be a step backward ... The wave of insurance cancellations happening right now is a feature of the law; not a bug.”

So anyway, what really set the kittens amongst the balloons was the flabbergasting failure of the healthcare.gov website -- a Rube Goldberg contraption assembled by 55 private contractors with nobody in the Obama administration seemingly taking charge. This unaccountable failure led to millions of consumers abruptly dumped by their insurance companies having no easy way to learn that for the great majority, better options exist.

Fix the website, and the political problem fixes itself.

(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.)