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Give Obamacare a chance

Posted: August 1, 2013 5:16 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Why are congressional Republicans so determined to repeal Obamacare? They’re terrified that, once Americans have it, they might want to keep it.

That’s what happened after Medicare was passed in 1965, when the idea of government involvement in health care coverage encountered a lot less resistance that it does today -- despite a popular 1961 vinyl record titled “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine,” before the Gipper entered full-time politics.

Recent polls indicate a larger majority of Americans are opposed to the president’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and their opposition is more intense than that of its supporters.

That’s encouraging news to Republican hardliners who have been threatening to cause a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded.

So why is the president whose staff nicknamed him “No Drama Obama” still smiling?

First, there’s a silver lining in the gloomy polls.

The National Journal’s poll, for example, finds that, while most Americans don’t think Obamacare will help them personally, they want to give it a chance anyway.

And why wouldn’t we? Americans have long been irritated by the skyrocketing costs, shrinking coverage and millions of uninsured in our overly complicated private health care system.

House Republicans have voted 39 times to repeal Obamacare, only to be blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate. Yet Republicans have refused to fully engage this important debate by offering a workable alternative. They’d rather just say “No.”

“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” House speaker John Boehner said on Sunday’s CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We should be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

Yet I suspect that the Grand Old Party’s stubborn opposition to Obamacare is due for an overhaul after Oct. 1. That’s when the law calls for every state to launch an “exchange,” the online “marketplace” in which people will be able to shop for insurance.

Subsidies also will be provided under the law to help those who can’t afford premiums on their own.

What happens to GOP opposition then? I doubt that Republican lawmakers will be all that eager to take away coverage from millions of people who are getting help with cancers, heart conditions and other life-threatening ailments that they previously could not afford.

More likely, Republicans will come back as they already do, with stories of the ACA’s failures.

Problems are bound to appear in a program this huge, just as problems plagued the early days of Medicare, which is now one of the government’s most popular programs.

We already have seen the Obama administration announce a one-year delay in fines for medium and large companies that fail to provide health coverage to workers.

And an important debate already is heating up over how well the state-run insurance marketplaces work. Yet a close examination of the 12 states that have proposed or approved insurance rates for comparison reveals a promising pattern.

“Obamacare is not shaping up as the train wreck its critics predicted,” as Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic, put it. “And in those states where officials are most committed to its success, it’s not even close.”

In other words, we’re seeing sunny reports come out of Democratic-blue states and gloomy reports from the Republican-red states.

In Maryland, for example, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley set up an exchange that offers nine carriers whose rates are among the lowest of the 12 reporting states. New York and California, also with Democratic governors, reported similarly low rates.

However, as featured in Republicans’ “Obamacare rate shock” warnings, Ohio said its health insurance rates for individuals will soar 88 percent, and Indiana estimated a 72 percent hike. Yet, as Politico and others have reported, both states cooked the books a bit. They were comparing the basic cost of providing coverage, not the cost of premiums, which is much lower.

Neither state bothered to distinguish the ACA’s four levels of coverage, either. Those under age 30, for example, will pay a lot less catastrophic coverage than those over age 55 will.

Shoppers will be relieved, I am sure, to learn about that. That’s enough to make President Obama smile about Obamacare, while its opponents don’t.

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