Mike Littwin: Still tilting at Obamacare, as the numbers pile up
March 19, 2015
You don’t have be a mathematician, or a scientist, to understand the numbers. Any way you add them up, it looks as if Obamacare is actually working.
Here’s a brief summary, via the Obama administration, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and the Congressional Budget Office:
There are more people signed up than anticipated. The cost of Obamacare is predicted to be significantly less than anticipated. Insurance premiums are rising at a slower rate than anticipated. Medical costs are rising at a slower pace than anticipated. Fewer employers are dumping plans than anticipated.
There are problems, of course. There are still too many uninsured. There are those many states refusing to expand Medicaid despite the billions of federal dollars left on the table. There are rural districts where people don’t have sufficient access to doctors and hospitals and where costs are unreasonably high.
And there is King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court case that may just scuttle the whole thing.
The case is indicative of the one problem that everyone could have anticipated: When it comes to Obamacare, no matter how much things change, nothing seems to change at all.
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But there are the numbers. According to the White House, 14.1 million people have enrolled in either private insurance or Medicaid since Obamacare began. That’s a big deal, of course. That’s a life-changing deal. Another 2.3 million people under the age of 26 are insured on their family plan. The percentage of uninsured has fallen by a third. According to Be Healthy Denver and Denver Health, the rate of Denver residents insured has risen to 94 percent.
There’s more. The CBO estimates Obamacare costs at $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. That’s a lot of money, of course, but previous CBO estimates had the cost at $1.5 trillion. A $300 billion reduction is nothing to sneeze at (although if you are sneezing, your doctor visit may now be covered.)
But however good the numbers may look, that doesn’t change this simple fact: For the Obamacare obsessed, there are numbers and there are numbers — and none of them could ever translate as success.
Reserve your seat for the next — I believe it would be the 57th — House vote to repeal, not replace, Obamacare, and you’ll hear the same things you heard in the previous 56.
Obamacare is a train wreck. It’s a job killer, even if the job market is pumping jobs like the frackers are pumping oil. Now, if it’s not a job killer, it’s a good-job killer. Anyway, it’s broken promises or lies of the year. It’s canceled health policies. It’s mandates.
And why stop there? It’s the end of America as we know it, and if you don’t believe me, just wait for the coming Republican presidential debates, in which Obamacare doom will square off against Obamacare gloom 10 to 16 times over.
Yes, Obamacare is looking to be a success by its own standards. But what if you never accepted Obamacare standards? What if you think the high rates of uninsured aren’t your problem? What if you think you can pay for pre-existing conditions just by saying you can? What if you question the CBO numbers and certainly don’t trust the Obama numbers? What if you think that the only unskewable polls are those showing a solid majority of Americans still opposed to Obamacare?
So we have two competing stories: To the surprise of many, Obamacare seems to be working. And to the surprise of no one, the fight over Obamacare is never ending.
Which brings us, of course, to King v. Burwell and the Supreme Court, which will render a verdict in late June that could destroy Obamacare, sending it into the dreaded death spiral — much scarier than the death panels — in which subsidies for those 7.5 million insured through the federal exchanges come to end, meaning many will have to drop their policies, meaning the prices will go up, meaning more will drop out, meaning, well, you can see where it’s headed.
The case rests on four words in Section 36B — referring to exchanges “established by the State” — suggesting Congress didn’t want those who can’t afford insurance to have their policies subsidized unless the states set up their own exchanges. No one actually believes that, particularly no one who actually tuned into CSPAN for the endless debates.
But at an American Enterprise Institute meeting in 2010, just after the law passed, lawyers were tasked to find something, anything, with which to attack it in the courts.
In the oft-quoted words of AEI scholar Michael Greve: "This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it's dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”
And so they found the four words. And now no one knows how the case will turn out, except that if Obamacare opponents lose, as they did the last time in a 5-4 decision, they’ll be back again. Millions could lose their insurance, but when it comes to Obamacare, 5-4 may be the only numbers that matter.