“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
So, I wanted to flag some news that dropped Tuesday while I was busy pondering the semiotic significance of General Tso’s Chicken. With the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage having just passed, the Department of Health and Human Services announcedthat 8.2 million Americans have signed up for health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, compared to about 6.4 million at the same time during last year’s open enrollment period. The number of first-timers has grown too—about 2.4 million customers who picked plans on the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, were new, versus 1.8 million last year.
Since open enrollment is still going, this all seems to suggest that HHS’s original estimate that 10 million people would ultimately sign up and keep a health plan bought via the exchanges through the end up 2015 was a bit of a lowball number—though, as always, it’s hard to make predictions (I’ll leave that to Charles Gaba).
The other interesting news: More young people are signing up. So far there are 2.1 million enrollees on healthcare.gov are under 35 (about 35 percent of the total), up from 1.1 million last time around (or about 33 percent of the total).*
This is a very positive development for the health reform law. One of the big questions lingering over Obamacare has been whether enough young adults, who tend to be healthier, would sign up for coverage, in order to support older, sicker customers and make plans sold on the exchanges profitable and sustainable. So far, many insurers have been losing money on their exchange plans. But these new numbers suggest that the market is gradually becoming more balanced (as Sarah Kliff at Vox notes, the goal is to eventually have 38 percent of enrollees younger than 35). One potential reason why: The tax penalty for not having insurance finally went up to a full $695 this year. I’d also guess more people are simply learning about the law, and deciding to take advantage of it.
*Correction, December 23, 2015: This post incorreclty stated the percentage of young adults among the healthcare exchanges’ customers.
Whatever you think of Obamacare, this guide is intended to help you understand what’s at stake for consumers, employers and physicians — and help you cut through the political rhetoric as the law’s biggest test begins.
Some Americans are starting to get ominous-sounding letters about their health-care coverage. Insurance provider Florida Blue, for example, is canceling 300,000 bare-bones insurance plans that aren’t up to the Affordable Care Act’s standards. Customers can transition onto better quality — but more expensive — plans. Unsurprisingly, reporters have found some unhappy customers. Conservatives, meanwhile, have charged that this is just another example of why the law is a lemon, forcing people onto plans they don’t want.
But, despite what the president may have said, this news should not have come as a shock, and it is not evidence that the law is a failure.
The reform underway is rooted in the notion that there is a certain catalog of health-care benefits to which all Americans should have access, and that they should not have to pay outrageous amounts of money to get that coverage. It means to accomplish that goal by mandating that everyone not on government-run programs such as Medicaid pay into the private insurance system, and by setting certain standards on what health-care insurance must cover. Plans must include prescription drug, mental health, maternity, preventative care and other basic benefits, and they must take care of at least 60 percent of patients’ health expenses. The vast majority of Americans, most of whom get health insurance from their employers, won’t see much change. But a significant number — a study looking at 2010 figures said half — of customers currently buying insurance on their own don’t have plans of that quality.
Mike Lee To GOP On Obamacare: ‘If You Fund It, You’re For It’
Tea party Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) put the GOP on notice Tuesday by characterizing a vote against shutting down the government by refusing to fund the Affordable Care Act as endorsing the law outright.
“Defund it, or own it. If you fund it, you’re for it,” Lee said on the Senate floor.
Lee, joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), is spearheading an effort not to fund the government unless it excludes appropriations to implement Obamacare. The lawmakers are finding severe resistance within their own ranks, however.
One of those Republicans who disagrees with Lee’s strategy, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), explained on the Senate floor that defunding Obamacare would require a highly-unlikely 67 votes.
“I’d love to defund Obamacare, I’d like someone to show me a mechanism to do it,” he said.
Has anyone else noticed how pathetically frightened the Republican Party is that Obamacare just might succeed?
I know, we’re all supposed to think the End Is Nigh because the government has decided to give the 10 percent of large employers who don’t insure their workers another 365 days to do so before levying a small penalty. This could not possibly be a reasonable accommodation to protect jobs and businesses, because as everybody knows, this president hates jobs and businesses.
No, this brief delay must be a sign that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is destined to result in abject failure. After all, that’s what every Congressional Republican with the ability to hit send on a press release has told us, over and over again, hoping that repeating their prediction enough times will somehow make it true.
But here’s my question: if Republicans are so confident Obamacare will end badly, why not just shut up about it? It’s not like they have the votes to repeal the law—a math problem they still haven’t solved after 37 different tries. Their appeal to the Supreme Court ended in defeat at the hands of a conservative chief justice. And now the bulk of the plan will begin to take effect in just a few months.
At this point, why not sit back and wait for this crazy experiment to self-destruct? Why not let President Obama and the Democrats reckon with the millions of angry Americans who will undoubtedly hate their new insurance or their new insurance protections?
Because Republicans are terrified that Obamacare could actually work. Already, the law has provided 54 million Americans free access to preventive services like check-ups and mammograms. More than six million seniors have saved more than six billion dollars on their prescriptions. Nearly 13 million consumers have received more than one billion dollars in rebates from insurance companies that had overcharged them. There are more than three million happy young adults who have been allowed to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. And in California, a state that represents one-fifth of the U.S. economy, we’ve learned that premiums for the law’s new insurance options have come in lowerthan expected.
As these successes build, Republicans are naturally coping with their fear the only way they know how: by scaring the hell out of everyone else. The Koch brothers, not content with the millions they flushed down the toilet on Karl Rove’s 2012 electoral strategy, are spending millions more on ads that tell the same previously debunked lies about the health-care law. Mitch McConnell, still pursuing his top legislative priority of defeating a president who can no longer be defeated, actually threatened the NFL for even considering the administration’s request to help educate uninsured Americans about the fact that they can now receive affordable coverage under the law.
Mitch McConnell has been trying to repeal Obamacare for years.
There is now plenty of evidence that if we as a nation want Obamacare to work, it will work.
Think about that. This is the same kind of public education and outreach effort that the Bush administration once launched about a prescription drug program that many Democrats voted against. But Democrats didn’t object because it didn’t exactly seem fair to punish senior citizens with higher drug costs just to prove a political point. This is also the same kind of effort Mitt Romney launched in Massachusetts when he asked the Red Sox to help educate the public about the benefits of Romneycare. Again, no one had a problem—just like no one has problems with government efforts to educate the public about Social Security benefits, or flu vaccinations, or school lunches, or any other benefits and protections we’ve written into law as a humane and decent society.
But today, the antigovernment zealots who have taken over the once-proud Republican Party feel they must burn our village to save it. They are actively trying to prevent Americans who have been too poor or sick to get health insurance from knowing that all three branches of their democratically elected government have passed and upheld a law that will finally allow them to see a doctor without going broke.
This is not to say that implementation will be easy or without problems. Some will be self-inflicted by poorly written provisions or bureaucrats who make mistakes because they’re human. Others will be inflicted by Republican governors and legislatures who refuse to accept the money the federal government is providing to expand health insurance programs for the poor and disabled.
But there is now plenty of evidence that if we as a nation want Obamacare to work, it will work; that if we can extract ourselves from the trench warfare that preceded the passage of the law, we can all start focusing on fixing and improving it over the next year. Out in America, I know there are not only plenty of Democrats and Independents who feel this way, but Republicans as well. What these Americans need to do now is speak up and be heard, because the antics of their frightened representatives in Washington are endangering the health care of millions and embarrassing their party in the process.