When it comes to President Obama’s signature health care law, spin won’t decide its future.
Now is supposedly the winter of liberals’ Obamacare discontents. Its troubled website and low first month enrollment numbers are being depicted as an epic disaster for the president and liberalism in general. So should liberals start writing off the land mark health care law and Obama’s presidency while starting to pray for Hillary to come in and save us all?
I’d have to say no. When it comes to the future of Obamacare it’s really important to keep perspective about a lot of the negative news stories that keep coming out. In addition, remember that the question that will determine the future of Obamacare is whether the policy itself works. Simply put: All those Washington spin wars don’t matter a whole lot.
An important thing to remember is that the Patient Protect and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, is a really big bill that does a lot of things. The issue that everyone has been talking about since the beginning of October has to do with just one (though very important) part of Obamacare. The four out of five Americans who get their health insurance through their employer or a government program like Medicare for Seniors or Medicaid for the poor pretty much haven’t been affected by all the controversy we’ve been hearing about so much recently. In fact, a lot of those people have been enjoying the benefits of Obamacare, such as the rule requiring insurance companies to provide free prenatal care, for quite some time now.
The recent hubbub about the law has been about the other one in five Americans that either currently buy their health insurance as individuals or simply go without it. Obamacare covers this pool of Americans by mandating that they purchase coverage (the mandate you’ve been hearing about), imposing rules about what those individual plans have to cover (a lot of people have been hoodwinked into buying plans that don’t cover anything in the past) and subsidizing people if they need financial help to buy a plan.
This is where the problems we’ve been hearing about come in. Since the Healthcare.gov website hasn’t been working very well and some people have to get new plans by December 15 for coverage starting January 1, well…you get the problem.
But while there have certainly been a lot of problems in the last month and a half, the atmosphere of impending doom that most news stories and punditry out there describe has hardly been the universal experience for Americans. Instead, a lot of the coverage has been skewed to be so negative because of the way the political media likes to cover things like this. Just take the basic way journalists or pundits talk about Obamacare’s “disastrous” roll out. When they do that they are already ignoring the other 80 percent of Americans who aren’t being affected at all by these problems. Furthermore, when they use absolute terms like the website “doesn’t work” or “nobody can get through” during their coverage in October they were being objectively wrong. It’s true that a lot of people couldn’t get through on the website to purchase plans, it’s also true that 106,000 people did and have signed up for plans.
This brings up another bias that the press has. Quite frankly a disaster is always better news than something going well. Everyone can name passengers ships that sank with a bunch of people on board, but how many smooth-sailing passenger ships can you name? So the coverage gravitates from things that go well, like some of the state-based web exchanges where people are buying coverage plans without problems, immediately to worst case scenarios.
The media’s natural tendency to gravitate coverage to the middle class and rich (they are the ones who read the most news after all) have resulted in a lot of stories about the poor being largely ignored. One of the biggest changes to our health care system under Obamacare was raising the Medicaid eligibility level up to those who are making 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less. Do to the Supreme Court’s decision to alter the law to let states opt out of this provision some have chosen not to raise the eligibility levels. But a lot of states have and the result has been a surge of people signing up for Medicaid, 444,000 in the month of October alone. This good news has been largely ignored by the media and when it does get covered it involves a lot of hand wringing about it as though it’s a bad thing. Meanwhile, numerous stories about middle class people or even the rich having to sign up for new plans or having to pay more are shouted from the rooftops, at least until they are debunked.
Add up all these factors and you can see why we’ve had such a firestorm of negative coverage since October 1. But here’s the thing: all of this negative coverage probably won’t matter in the long run. If Healthcare.gov starts to work eventually (as it already seems to be doing) and as more people start signing up as we get closer to the December 15 and March 31 deadlines, these stories will just fade away. Just like how nobody talks about last month’s shutdown anymore. As Greg Sargent pointed out recently,
Let’s face it, the spin war over initial low enrollment figures just doesn’t matter that much. Because the story here is the same as it always was: All that matters is whether the policy works in the long run.
If it does, then all of the spin of the moment — low enrollment proves the law is in total collapse! Red state Dems are fleeing the wreckage wholesale! — will be forgotten entirely, and Republicans will have to readjust to a political landscape in which the law is working for lots and lots of people.
I think this is exactly right. I suppose there is some greater than zero chance that all the health care experts, economists and others who designed the law were wrong. That people without health insurance really do like it that way and think it’s cool or something. Or they just don’t care about being able to go to the doctor, but I really, really doubt this. And unless that’s true all of this won’t matter in the long run, even if you are just reading this because the stupid website won’t load.