For months, the emphasis has been more negative than positive.
The healthcare.com website doesn’t work. Most people signing up for the Affordable Care Act already have insurance. More people lost their old insurance than gained new coverage. And many Obamacare enrollees haven’t paid the premium.
Some of that was true. The federal website was a start-up disaster and even crashed on the eve of Monday’s deadline. Many people did initially lose their insurance despite President Barack Obama’s pledge it wouldn’t happen.
Still, despite all that and a concerted Republican effort in many states including Texas to make enrollment as difficult as possible, Obamacare is alive and well.
As this week’s signup deadline passed, the number of enrollees in Obama’s historic health-care plan not only passed the Congressional Budget Office’s revised 6 million target, but, as Obama happily announced Tuesday, surpassed CBO’s initial pre-startup 7 million goal.
“Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked,” Obama told a celebratory Rose Garden rally. “There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years it will help millions more.”
Charles Gaba, a Michigan website developer who tracked signups on his ACAsignups.com website, says, “That number is likely to rise” from late-reporting state totals.
As for those questionable areas, the Los Angeles Times said one-third of those signing up for private insurance didn’t previously have any. Insurance companies estimate 80 percent to 90 percent have paid their premiums, said Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who sat unmentioned by Obama at Tuesday’s event.
The signup scoreboard also includes more than 4.5 million new Medicaid signups, plus 3 million newly able to stay on their parents’ policies, bringing the overall total past 15 million, including at least 9.5 million of the 50 million Americans who didn’t have insurance. A recent Gallup Poll reported the percentage of uninsured Americans has dropped to the lowest level in five years.
Republican critics challenge the statistics. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that many signed up “under duress,” because of losing prior insurance. Others, like House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, continued to portray its impact as negative.
A majority of Americans still oppose the plan, but most want it fixed, not scuttled, most polls show. And it may have attracted enough younger, healthier applicants to be financially viable.
But Obama himself observed, “the law is not perfect” and will require continued adjustments. The Congressional Budget Office projects future signups will “markedly increase,” sharply cutting the number of those without insurance. But attention will shift from daily signup glitches or successes to how coverage is working and affecting insurance premiums.
Legal efforts to cripple it remain. Besides the much publicized challenge to its contraceptive coverage, a potentially more damaging case contending only those in state-run exchanges are entitled to the federal subsidy for poorer participants could affect a majority of signees.
Besides, refusal by some state governments to participate has left a far higher proportion of uninsured people in those states. A prime example is Texas, where most state officials regularly denounce the ACA and the state enacted new limits this year on the “navigators” tasked to help people enroll.
While four states including California have signed up more than one-fourth of those without insurance, Texas has signed up just 10 percent. Overall signups in state-run exchanges have averaged over 20 percent, according to a University of Pennsylvania study, but just 12 percent in the federally run exchange that serves individuals in states refusing to participate.
Continuing House GOP efforts to pass repeal measures will continue to fail. But Republicans may try to curb the law’s funding if they add Senate control to their House majority in November’s elections. Success might hinge on votes of Republicans from swing or Democratic states who face re-election in 2016 and may be reluctant to eliminate a program with more than 20 million beneficiaries.
It’s been a long, tough winter in the East, and a long, tough spell for the Obama administration. But it may be more than symbolic that, as Monday’s deadline neared and enrollment soared, a warming sun and rising temperatures at last brought spring to Washington.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.