By Sam Groves | Opinion Editor
It’s not often that politicians are faced with a fact they can’t run away from, or a problem they can’t spin. Yet in the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama has encountered exactly that.
The Affordable Care Act (nicknamed “Obamacare”) is widely viewed as the crowning achievement of the President’s first term in office. It’s a sweeping piece of health care reform legislation — the most significant in nearly 50 years — that was championed by the President and fellow Democrats.
That close association explains why the success of the law has become tied to Democratic political fortunes since its passage in March 2010. And it explains why two major failures in the early stages of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation have not only endangered the law, but also proved disastrous for the Obama administration.
The first of these failures was evident from almost the moment the implementation process began over two months ago on Oct. 1. That was when HealthCare.gov, the website created under the law as an online marketplace where consumers can shop for health insurance, went live. But the website was immediately plagued with more than 300 software bugs. It couldn’t function properly. No one could log on, and no one could shop or enroll for covergae.
The second of these failures became clear as the rollout continued. Since the Affordable Care Act’s passage, President Obama had repeatedly claimed that, despite new coverage requirements, those who wanted to keep their insurance plans would be allowed to. And since the law’s implementation, these statements have proven blatantly inaccurate. In cases where a plan fell short of the Affordable Care Act’s basic standards, insured people were required to get better coverage.
These are inescapable facts that the President will inevitably have to answer for — to the people in our time and perhaps also to history in generations to come.
But while embarrassing to the Obama administration, and seemingly validating to Republicans who have insisted for years on the law’s ineptitude, these temporary failures do not indicate the failure of the President’s signature law, nor his legacy, nor American liberalism in general. And most importantly, they do not represent the greatest injustice here.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry recently rejected an optional provision of the Affordable Care Act that would have provided health coverage to over 1.5 million uninsured Texans.
The provision would have expanded the federal low-income health care program known as Medicaid. Here in Texas, the impact would have been huge. Our state has the highest rate of people lacking health insurance in the country and more children without health insurance than any other state. Perhaps more than anywhere else in the U.S., Texas stood to benefit from this single provision of the Affordable Care Act.
But Gov. Perry refused to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s strange. The governor appeared outraged when it turned out some people would be required to get new insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Don’t the millions of Texans who never had any insurance to start with deserve the same attention?
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner recently credited the U.S. with having “the best health care delivery system in the world.” Humanity may never know what gave him that idea. What we do know is that 75 percent of U.S. adults disagree with him, according to a study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund. They believe the system needs to be either fundamentally altered or rebuilt.
And they’re right. Our health care system wasted $750 billion in 2009, according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine. Americans spend more per year on health insurance than any other nationality. We spend more money out-of-pocket for health care. Due to high costs, 37 percent of Americans are unable to receive recommended care, see a doctor when they’re sick or fulfill a prescription. And 23 percent of Americans either had serious trouble or were unable to pay their medical bills.
These are the greatest injustices here.
Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, every Democratic president has made some effort to achieve health care reform or universal health care in America. The latter dream remains unfulfilled. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are closer than ever before. According to President Obama, about 500,000 uninsured Americans “are poised to get coverage” thanks to the law. Millions more are expected to sign up as the law turns the corner, emerging at last from the rubble of the past two months. The website is now working more than 90 percent of the time. The Obama administration has turned its focus from damage control to outreach programs meant to promote the law and increase enrollment. And as more and more people participate in the marketplace, prices will go down.
The law is not perfect — how could it have been, when it had to pass through a divided Congress with a slim Democratic majority? Like any major initiative, it will experience initial kinks and growing pains. Yet above the divisiveness — above majorities and minorities, laws and legacies, politics and passion and petty assessments of who gets to say “we told you so,” above even the most fundamental principles which both unite and divide us, there must be some common and constant strain: an innate sensibility and a natural propulsion toward goodness, which dictates that if, in time, we may look around and find that under this law, people are healthier and happier, more independent and more secure, the doubts and controversies surrounding it will melt away.
That’s a reality we can all look forward to, and barring any attempts at obstruction, it’s one the Affordable Care Act will bring us closer and closer to every day.