President Obama’s signature healthcare initiative never had a chance. From its very inception, political opposition and special-interest lobbyists ginned up their PR machines, which led to immediate and frenetic resistance from Republicans, conservative media, and citizens themselves. Since October 1, when healthcare exchanges and other major pieces of the legislation were officially rolled out, stories of how the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare was failing the public were ubiquitous.
Remarkably, considering the dearth of criticism the Obama administration knew was out there, the rollout of the exchanges was almost hopelessly bungled. The website was full of glitches and could not handle the traffic. The networks in the exchanges are narrow, and it is more difficult to hold on to one’s preferred plan—or even their preferred doctors—because of it.
The story was covered as a political one. Individual experiences with the website and health plans were reported in the news, sometimes without even doing due diligence to determine the veracity of the claims, as simple anecdotal evidence to prove political speculation. All that seems to matter is what “side” a person is on, rather than how the system is actually affecting these people.
The latest line from the Obama administration is that 6 million people have signed up for health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. However, CNN Money reports that these figures “are somewhat misleading.” According to their statistics, 2.1 million people were able to sign up for private coverage through the marketplace exchanges found on Healthcare.gov. The other 3.9 million people are those covered under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP. What’s uncertain is how many of those 3.9 million people were already eligible for these programs and reapplied and how many were newly eligible thanks to the new law.
In fact, the Medicaid numbers would be even higher if 24 governors hadn’t refused the federal funds to expand the program for their citizens. According to estimates from the White House in November, they expected the already-approved Medicaid expansions to provide coverage to 4.6 million people, and they fell short of that number.
One could spend days wondering if conservatives would be see the Medicaid numbers being lower than expected as a “victory” because there are fewer people on the government program than expected or because the White House guessed a number and was wrong again. Yet little concern is given to those in the states without the expansion who need coverage or how those newly on Medicaid are being serviced and its effect on the overall program efficiency, at least unless someone develops a political angle on that story too.
Also being ignored are the real problems with the new law that don’t lend themselves to good political rhetoric. For example, the public option was supposed to serve as market control by giving consumers a low-cost, (supposedly) quality choice. This would (in theory) force hospitals, insurers, and companies that profit from medicine to force ways to cut costs and stay solvent. Without this in place, a provision in the bill meant to provide relief to companies if not enough people signed up has now become (essentially) an insurance company bailout.
Whether or not the law is good or bad policy, inherently flawed or adaptable to perfection, all that seems to matter is the horse race. For President Obama to fail, the law has to fail, and Republicans have seemingly adopted a strategy that his failure is the key to their success. Rather than winning elections by saying “I’m right,” they seem instead to be relying on voters saying “He’s wrong.” The policy and the people it’s meant to help take a backseat to that story.