One Perspective: Biggest glitches not with Obamacare

 Laslo Boyd, The Daily Record Newswire

Last week was a big one for the law sometimes referred to as the Affordable Care Act. On Oct. 1, citizens began signing up for health care coverage under the new law. Despite some glitches on the websites that were supposed to make the process an easy one, initial indications showed a lot of demand for the program.

Obviously, it’s way too early to reach any definitive conclusions about how the Affordable Care Act will work. Will enough people sign up? Will young people and those who are relatively healthy sign up or opt to pay the penalty? Will the technical obstacles be fixed quickly enough that people trying to sign up don’t get discouraged and give up?

In a normal world, the problems described above would be seen as inherent in any new and complex undertaking and ultimately be no big deal. But the world of Obamacare is anything but normal; the challenge is to give birth to a new program in the midst of a toxic political environment.

The very same day that Obamacare opened for business, the federal government was shut down by Republicans in the House of Representatives. These “representatives” decided to forgo any responsibility to the rest of the country in a campaign to get the new law defunded or derailed.

The hyperbolic rhetoric of the opponents suggests that many of them are in serious need of health care. For example, Obamacare has been called the worst law ever passed by Congress. Really? Worse than the Alien and Sedition Acts? Worse than the Fugitive Slave Law? Worse than the congressional resolution that authorized George W. Bush to initiate an unnecessary war in Iraq?

Obamacare has been called a form of socialism, a charge that demonstrates that the accusers have no idea what socialism is. It’s been called a government takeover of the health industry despite the fact that not a single doctor has become a federal employee as a result. Lucky for us since all of them would now be on furlough.

Don’t get me wrong — the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect. In that respect, it’s like every other law passed by Congress. It was filled with compromises, adapted from a very similar approach in Massachusetts that has been widely viewed as highly successful by everyone in that state other than Mitt Romney. Most complex legislation gets modified and improved over time, but that requires the members of Congress to negotiate in good faith. Not much sign of that now.

Republicans complain that the law was passed on a straight party vote and that the minority was totally ignored despite its similarity to many previous Republican proposals. The irony can’t be lost on Barack Obama that if he had pushed for a more comprehensive bill, a single-payer system that provided universal coverage, the opposition would have been exactly what it is now.

Do you remember in the first year after the law passed the Republican chant of “Repeal and Replace”? Haven’t heard that recently, have you? Congressional Republicans have shown no interest in any version of health care reform and certainly nothing that comes from a Democratic president. And in the meantime, many Republican governors have refused to take advantage of the provision that allows a significant increase in the number of people covered by Medicaid, apparently having no regard for the millions of their citizens who would benefit.

One might infer from the intensity of the debate that opponents of Obamacare believe the current health care system is a wonderful one that shouldn’t be changed at all. That tens of millions are uninsured; that we devote twice as much to health care as any other nation, that the United States is the only developed democracy in the world that doesn’t have a form of universal health care; that people in this country go bankrupt because of medical bills; that, despite the superb care at the high end, the U.S ranks behind many other countries on such key health indicators as infant mortality — none of those facts are even acknowledged by the opponents of Obamacare.

Remember that the startup of Medicare in 1965 was far from smooth and that the initial sign-up period for coverage under the Affordable Care Act lasts for six months. The current problems will fade into a distant memory over time.

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Laslo Boyd writes a monthly column for The Daily Record. He has held senior positions in higher education in Maryland and Massachusetts as well in Maryland governor’s office. He can be contacted at lvboyd@gmail.com. 

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