One lesson that coaches and sports fans learn early on is that you should not clear a place on the wall to hang the trophy until the season is actually over. President Obama's recent proclamation of victory because 7.1 million people signed up for Affordable Care Act coverage may turn out to be as delusional as his foreign policies. His "victory" is actually more on the order of kicking a field goal in the first quarter of a Super Bowl game and claiming the win. It may be prophetic that he started his victory laps on April Fool's Day.
"Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon, not famous for being a political partisan in any sense, summed it up this way: "... numbers are neither impressive or reliable. It's amazing what you can achieve when you make something mandatory, fine people if they don't do it -- and keep extending the deadline for months." That sums it up nicely. We have no clue as to whether or not the Affordable Care Act actually works. The president himself spent several years carefully referring to his pet project by its proper title and chastising those who called it "Obama" care. Until April Fool's Day. For the first time, carried away with joy, he referred to it as Obama Care.
Let's consider some hard facts before we decide that this law is any kind of success. Forget about the rocky rollout. Forget about the incessant lies about "if you like your doctor or your health plan, you can keep them." Forget about the many changes made to the legally prescribed deadlines for compliance that were changed by executive order, not by congressional action. Forget the promises that guaranteed your premiums for health insurance will be lower when the act takes effect. Forget the unlucky ones who lost their insurance coverage because their present insurers couldn't comply with new mandates. These inconsistencies and lies are not the real issues here -- unless, of course, you are among the many who are hurt by any one or all of the above frauds.
The real issue here is what happened, or didn't happen, to the premises and promises that were in play as the rationale for passing the Affordable Care Act in the first place. We were bombarded with the fact that there were 30 million people in the U.S. that had no health insurance at all. These people were supposed to be a drain on the economy because they were overloading the hospital emergency rooms seeking free care, or worse, they were dying needlessly because of lack of insurance. (Thirty million was the low end estimate.) Who could be heartless enough to ignore such a humanitarian cry for help? The answer to this one is -- apparently the whole affordable Obama care process itself! The 7.1 million enrollees seem to include two or three million Medicaid patients who live in states that agreed to enroll them, another two or three million people who were forced to buy new coverage because their existing policies were canceled by companies forced to cancel them by the law, and finally, perhaps two million people who actually had no health insurance of any kind before.
Do your own arithmetic. The government has refused to release accurate numbers regarding how many people are actually covered and in what category they fall. We also have no real clue as to how many of the 7.1 million signups have actually begun to pay their premiums. So, how many of the previously uninsured people are still not insured? The answer seems to be somewhere between 23 million and 28 million, based on the 30 million estimate. Is this a win? Is this plan working?
The situation in Vermont is fluid and still unfolding, and needs more space to discuss than I have today. Consider two things. One is that under the Affordable Care Act our local hospital lost $2 million in funding. Rep. Peter Welch has been able to get this money restored in each of the past two years by getting a special law passed in Congress. This kind of begging is not good in the long run. The other problem is that Vermont is committed to starting a single-payer health plan in 2017 which will cost at least $2.2 billion in its first year. Your share of this will be ... ?
Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.