“I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it.” –Anthem Blue Cross customer in California
One of the neat things about living and working inside the Capital Beltway is that politics tends to be a personal matter. And no, I don’t mean “the personal is the political,” in that bizarre wing-nut way in which self-described progressives never deign to suffer friends of differing views, or in which abortion activists (on either side) cast aspersions against the humanity of their friends with sententious yet genial aplomb. The sense I mean is much simpler than that: the professional class tends to be intimately involved in political matters, and so political matters to some degree or other make for as expedient a topic for casual conversation as any other.
As such, it was hardly a surprise when the effects of the Affordable Care Act arose in leisurely discussion at a Halloween party in Friendship Heights. After all, the exchanges went live less than a month ago, and many Americans, including me, have already received notice from insurance providers about impending, legally required cancellations to healthcare plans somebody promised we could keep.
I was not surprised to hear my friends’ exasperated testimony of how their premiums were tripling or how once affordable healthcare options had been forcibly bloated with “benefits” their anatomy could never use. I was not surprised to hear that my friends’ new individual plans demanded higher deductibles and copays, making once routine offerings suddenly less economical. Nor was I shocked to hear that friends insured by their employers were suddenly facing higher employee contributions to plans that were not more generous. Like a child of a Republican legion named Cassandra, I could only nod with grim commiseration at the plight of Democratic friends who were now deprived of any health plan because the colossal wreck of healthcare.gov did not allow them to replace the coverage the healthcare law had ended.
And now is the fall of our discontent.
While Republicans and more centrist Democrats have been warning the country about spiraling costs, crippling dysfunction, and escalating disaster in the peculiarly titled “Affordable” Care Act for years, the critics-come-lately are a bemused and distraught cast of hope-and-change-minded liberal Democrats.
Yes, you read that right.
The aforementioned complaints about Obamacare’s shenanigans from that Halloween party came from proud liberal Democrats who voted for—and still support—President Obama, the Democratic Party, and the liberal promise of healthcare reform. Yet these hopeful liberals are now at a loss as to how their progressive leadership sold them out to a healthcare system threatening to cannibalize what little financial security they’ve managed to accrue in the few short years since college. Like many of their peers, young and old, black and white, male and female, from California to D.C., my friends are realizing the disorienting truth that, to paraphrase Doug Stamper, the “Affordable” Care Act is a joke, and we will be the butt of it.
Sue Klinkhamer, a 60-year-old ex-congressional staffer who diligently supported Obamacare—even after her former boss, Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), lost his seat to the vaunted overhaul—expresses succinctly the peculiar sense of betrayal in an open question to fellow Democrats:
“Someone please tell me why my premium in January will be $356 more than in December?”
It would be easy for (some) conservatives to recline into a bath of schadenfreude and reflect with idle glee upon old GOP proposals that Democrats rejected in 2009. After all, prominent liberal economists acknowledged as far back as 2007 that mandating higher costs for young people is essential to progressive reform. It might likewise be tempting to allow House Republicans’ latest plan to salutarily reform healthcare law to fade into the volatile din of hostility between (and among) those seeking to undo Obamacare and those—like President Obama—determined to maintain it. But such vindictiveness would never match the injury the Democrats’ own agenda is inflicting upon liberals and middle-Americans of all persuasions, nor will short-sighted partisanship undo that damage.
As should surprise nobody now, the Obama administration and the insurance industry are colluding to ensure the healthcare law takes effect without delay. Various liberal bloggers and pundits are already making excuses for “glitches” in the law or downplaying their effects. (Some are even blaming Republicans for a failed approach many conservatives have fervently opposed for decades.) As ever, these forces are all playing what they perceive to be a long game, which is why Democratic acknowledgement of Obamacare’s evident and metastasizing harm to millions of Americans has been muted.
Let me be clear, there are many losers in Obamacare, whether the White House admits or not.
But whatever the spin, from any and all sides, healthcare costs will still be higher with Obamacare, and ordinary citizens will bear that weight tomorrow—in numb resignation or in stiff resentment—as we do today.
If the administration was wrong (or dishonest or misunderstood) about our ability to keep our plans, save money on healthcare, or even to have enrolled for new plans by now, it should surprise nobody that many earnest, well-meaning people will be deeply leery of even more rhetoric or promises with due dates ever in the offing. For all who are serious in Washington, the time for vainglory and grandstanding is over.
If I could give advice to pragmatist Republican and centrist Democratic leaders about how to help Obamacare-plagued people like my friends, Sue Klinkhamer, and me, I would suggest, for now, that they not lose the forest through the trees. Healthcare.gov is a mess, to be sure, but anybody who has worked with technology knows that new programs usually sputter and break before they get up and run. It would not be a stretch to assume the government’s website will eventually function as intended—and my friends robbed of coverage by Obamacare will eventually find new plans, however more costly. But when the technical difficulties pass, the broader problems with the law will endure, and therein lies a new saga of pain for much of Middle America.
The current plan that I would like to keep will die by the end of 2014. I hope the thoughtful leaders in Washington will have delivered us from Obamacare into truly better options by then.