After a very rocky start, the first open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" -- has actually slightly exceeded the original ambitious target goal, with 7.1 million Americans now signed up for private insurance plans through new health insurance marketplaces. The enrollment period ended on Monday.
In addition, through aspects of the law that went into effect earlier, more than 3 million young adults have been able to stay on their parents' insurance up to age 26. Individuals can no longer be denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Several million low-income people have become eligible for Medicaid coverage under an expansion of this program, though 24 states have not for political reasons accepted this expansion. Most of these states are in the South and West. Sign-ups for Medicaid benefits are not affected by this enrollment deadline.
Vermont exceeded the federal goal of 56,000, with 46,800 individuals enrolled in private plans and somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 more enrolled through their employers. Those participating through their employers are on a calendar that coincides with their employer's annual sign-up dates.
Those throughout the country who have tried to enroll but not completed the process will be able to do so in the coming weeks. A surge of interest toward the end of the enrollment period indicates that public opinion is undergoing a shift in favor of the law.
Those who predicted the end of American liberty or the destruction of quality health care or the loss patient freedom or national bankruptcy or "death panels" or any number of other horrible consequences of this law have been proven wrong. This includes the tea-party-controlled House of Representatives, which as of the beginning of March has voted 50 separate times to repeal the law.
"This law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's working. It's helping people from coast to coast, all of which makes the lengths to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law, or try to repeal the law without offering any plausible alternative so hard to understand. I've got to admit, I don't get it," President Barack Obama said Tuesday. "Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance? Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked. 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."
The implications of this enrollment surge on the overall healthcare picture remain to be seen. A political implication may be that Obamacare will not be the millstone around Democrats' necks in the mid-term elections, as pundits have predicted and Republicans have gleefully hoped. Indeed, the billionaire Koch Brothers and their action group, Americans for Prosperity, have deployed untold millions of dollars and activists carefully sited around the U.S. looking to use Obamacare as a cudgel to beat Democrats and advance the brothers' anti-government agenda.
According to a story on Americans for Prosperity in the March 21 New York Times, the group is not only hammering on the specifics of the ACA, "they are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come."
Fortunately, Obamacare is instead an increasingly successful example of government helping its constituents by enabling them to get insurance coverage, both private and public. This saves these citizens and their families money and will save the healthcare system from having to provide more expensive emergency care to the uninsured. Governments can trample on people's liberty -- see Russia -- but Obamacare is certainly not an example.
Most Americans are pragmatic, not ideological. If something works, they are for it. Government -- when people care enough about it to make it work and hold it accountable -- can help people improve their lives.
We have noted several stories in recent months of people who were politically disposed not to like Obamacare but who have grudgingly admitted that it has helped them.
The law seems to us more like a case study in perseverance for a good cause than a case study of government ineptitude.
~ Mark E. Rondeau