So it turns out that millions of people dealt with the Affordable Care Act enrollment cutoff pretty much the way they habitually deal with the April 15 income tax filing deadline: procrastinating until the last minute to ensure maximum stress and standing in line. Like mobbing shopping malls on the day after Thanksgiving, it’s the American way of life.
One result was predictably negative headlines like this classic in the Washington Post: “HealthCare.gov tumbles on deadline day as consumers race to sign up for insurance.” Because as we all know, temporary computer glitches — which never happen in the flawlessly efficient corporate sector, of course — are the big story here.
In the news business, this is called “burying the lede.” It’s the equivalent of a sports story headlined “Third-inning errors mar Red Sox World Series win.” Because the real news, sports fans, is that Obamacare has met and even surpassed every enrollment projection. Oddly, millions of last-minute shoppers decided they’d be better off with health insurance after all.
Who could have guessed?
At this writing, it appears that the late buying surge will carry Obamacare beyond the 7 million enrollments projected by the Congressional Budget Office. Too bad, because that quite ruins the visual effect of a comically misleading Fox News bar graph that contrived to make the 6 million citizens enrolled as of last week appear to be a small fraction of the 7 million CBO projection, rather than 84 percent of it. An alert basset hound wouldn’t have been fooled. Do they think viewers are morons?
But more about what Ed Kilgore calls “Obamacare denialism” to come. According to a Rand Corporation study reported in the Los Angeles Times, along with the 7 million newly enrolled in private insurance plans, roughly 4.5 million previously uninsured Americans have enrolled in Medicaid since the new law came online last November. Another 3 million young adults gained coverage through their parents’ insurance plans, as Obamacare allows.
Rand estimates that another 9 million Americans have bought coverage directly from insurance companies, although many of those were previously insured. Overall, the uninsured rate has dropped from an estimated 20.9 percent to 16.6 percent in the law’s first year — hardly the sudden revolution in American health care some dreamed of, but a creditable start.
What’s more, the numbers are dramatically better in states that worked to implement rather than obstruct the Affordable Care Act. New York State told CNBC that 59 percent of those buying health insurance through the state’s marketplace had been previously uninsured. In Kentucky, it’s 75 percent — immeasurably improving the lives of rural Kentuckians particularly.
How long will their neighbors, in, say, Tennessee be able to hold out against Obamacare as word gets around?
So how are Republicans whose congressmen have voted 50 times to repeal the law handling the unwelcome good news? About the way they dealt with allegedly “skewed” poll numbers back in 2012. Who can forget the Weekly Standard’s bold election eve prediction? “New Projection of Election Results: Romney 52, Obama 47.” According to pundit Fred Barnes, a 10-point Romney landslide was entirely likely.
The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn summarizes: “(Republicans) are doing what they almost always do when data confounds their previously held beliefs. They are challenging the statistics — primarily, by suggesting that most of the people getting insurance already had coverage. Some, like Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, say the administration is ‘cooking the books.’ Others, like Senator Ted Cruz, say that the number of people without insurance is actually rising.”
We await Sen. Cruz’s thunderous proof.
Meanwhile, something else that’s been happening right in the face of all those Koch-financed “Americans for Prosperity” ads lamenting that the Affordable Care Act “just doesn’t work,” is that the law’s popularity among the public has been steadily rising. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week shows Obamacare supported by more Americans than oppose it, albeit by a scant margin of 49 to 48 percent.
Interestingly, 36 percent of self-described conservatives now support the law, as opposed to 17 percent last November. How that will play into November 2014 congressional elections remains to be seen. However, it’s already become clear to the saner sorts of conservative thinker that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
The market has spoken. The political rebellion and/or actuarial collapse dreamed of on the right clearly isn’t going to happen. “(W)herever they go and whatever they do,” writes Ross Douthat in the New York Times, conservatives “will have to deal with the reality that Obamacare, thrice-buried, looks very much alive.”
Longer term, Obamacare denialism appears even more futile. The ever-prescient Kevin Drum points out that Republicans can’t dream of repealing the law as long as its namesake lives in the White House. And by 2017, the CBO estimates the law’s benefits will extend to 36 million Americans — a formidable constituency indeed.
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Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President”. You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.