Last week, the Obama administration announced it was making major changes to the already delayed employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Mid-sized employers will not have to conform to the mandate for insuring employees until 2016, while large employers were granted time extensions and additional flexibility as well. This latest delay in a law seemingly strangled under its own weight has highlighted the administration’s inability to rollout this program smoothly, and Democrats across the country are paying for it.
The delay was a political one as much as it was practical, as Congressional Democrats have urged the administration to focus as much attention away from Obamacare as possible. With midterm elections on the horizon, and the Republicans already feeling confident, this latest push may placate concerned business leaders but gives further fuel to the idea that the law is too big, too broad, and too ill-designed to function properly. This law was supposed to be Obama’s legacy to the nation, once and for all tackling a problem that political titans and popular presidents preceding him could not accomplish. Instead, Democratic lawmakers are pivoting hard away from the bill, hiding their connections with it and shifting focus elsewhere, due more to the inability of the administration to sell the bill to the American people rather than the content of the bill itself.
The Affordable Care Act is, generally speaking, a good bill for the people. Projections state that the bill will reduce the number of uninsured by 30-33 million, drastically reducing costs on the healthcare system. The bill bans the ability of insurers to drop policyholders if they become sick or bar people from getting policies who have pre-existing conditions, allows keeping children on their parents plans until age 26, and essential health benefits such as immunizations and vaccinations are fully covered. The CBO estimates that insurance premiums will fall for more people than those whose rates are raised, and those with raised rates will often be eligible for subsidies. Crucially, the bill also reduces the deficit by around $200 billion dollars from 2012-2021, the years of the legislation’s implementation. All of this is a recipe for a popular, bipartisan bill that should face minimal resistance both politically and with the people. Instead, entire political movements have formed and intruded their way into the system because of the law’s vast unpopularity. How could that have happened?
Unfortunately, this bill had staggeringly incompetent publicity, non-existent oversight of implementation, and was gargantuan in size. This bill was a landmark, and to sell a bill of its importance, the administration had to be cautious. The right things had to be said, deadlines had to be met, and people had to be for it. Instead, conservative reactionaries to Obama’s election created a firestorm. They proclaimed that the individual mandate, a concept originated and used by conservatives, was unconstitutional and that the government was buying injectable hgh expanding wildly. The extreme right took over the airwaves and dominated the discussion, claiming “death panels” were to decide which senior citizens could continue to live and that the bill was costly, expansive, and tyrannical. Democrats, most prominently the president, tried repeatedly to emphasize the benefits and shoulder the Republican attacks, but the conversation was essentially over. When it came time to actually implement the bill the Obama administration fumbled horribly, delaying key parts of the bill and producing a website, the central enabling function of the law, that was tarnished by technological errors. The effect was to swing the momentum heading into midterm season, an election cycle critical to Obama’s entire presidency. Obama’s repeated claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” was proven to be false, reducing popular opinion further for both the law and the president.
Democrats blew a golden opportunity and let the Republicans carry the conversation. The Affordable Care Act has now hindered the entire Obama presidency and will, for better or for worse, define his eight years in office. To be sure, healthcare reform was needed and the Act makes a number of smart changes that alleviate pressure, reduce costs, and are beneficial to most Americans. But the bill and its amendments are nearly a thousand pages long. The hundreds of regulations added push the bill into the millions of words. The bill is complicated, bureaucratic, and messy; the worst combination for a bill that fundamentally requires popular support. Al Franken put it best when he said that Republicans “rallying cry…[is] one word: No. You can read that on a bumper. Our bumper sticker has…just way too many words. And it says, ‘Continued on next bumper sticker.”
Following the government shutdown, which practically handed the midterms to Democrats on a silver platter, Obamacare and its follies tripped up liberals heading into the elections. The senate is now up for grabs, and the chance to retake the House, something not too bold just months ago, has flown out the window. The next time a Democratic president has massive popular support and a filibuster-proof Senate, he or she needs to go all the way. Go for single-payer, universal healthcare. Sell the bill to the people, and convince them that what the administration is doing is right; or at the very least, inform the people of what the administration is doing. The distractions, often false and misleading, overwhelmed this bill and doomed it to mediocrity at best.
When you have a bill of this magnitude and surrounded by this much controversy, it’s imperative that you get the basics right. And if the woman in charge of the implementation is having trouble with the website, don’t send it out to the American people and wish them the best. They remember. And they vote.