Sam Blum ’15
To put it lightly, the past week has not been kind to President Obama and his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare’. For the past month the website where citizens could sign up for the health insurance exchanges, Healthcare.gov, has been plagued by technical errors. These errors quickly became the topic of late night talk shows, as well as mainstream news channels. Even Jon Stewart, typically seen as a media ally of the administration, heavily criticized the rollout of the website. Mr. Obama was universally panned for not having known about the problems with the website prior to its release. People found it ridiculous that an undertaking of this magnitude – literally years in the making- was not fully tested before being rolled out. As a result of these major technical errors only 106,000 Americans were able to sign up for Obamacare in its first month of activity. Of those who did sign up, less than 27,000 were able to do so through the Healthcare.gov website. Additionally, only five people in the entire District of Columbia signed up for the program despite the fact that local officials spent over 133 million dollars to setup the Washington D.C. exchange.
The unfortunate website fiasco (which President Obama had promised from the very beginning would never happen) has happened. Several million Americans who previously had health insurance have suddenly found themselves without it. Their coverage was unexpectedly canceled because their plans did not meet minimum standards under Obamacare regulations. This has led to widespread outrage by citizens who now feel the president has been lying to them all along. Mr. Obama has promised to fix the problem of already insured Americans losing their coverage by allowing them to keep their plans for an additional year. It is doubtful whether this can actually happen without serious changes to the law. In response to the website problems and unexpected cancellations President Obama’s approval rating has sharply fallen. In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, the president’s approval rating sits at 39%, the lowest it has been throughout his time in office. Additionally, the poll asked what Americans thought about Mr. Obama’s trustworthiness and honesty; unsurprisingly just over half of respondents, 52% to be precise, said they do not believe him to be trustworthy. The president claims he was not aware of the enrollment website issues prior to the rollout, but it is hard to believe he would not be informed of a problem in what is essentially his signature program.
There is some worry among Democrats that the failed implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act could spell doom for those up for reelection in 2014. Despite these fears House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has pledged that the party will continue to support the Obamacare program and that it will not be a major issue in the midterm elections. Although Pelosi vowed to remain in support of the program, she does not seem to have complete control over her party considering the fact that only a few days ago close to 40 House Democrats voted in favor of a Republican bill that would extend coverage for those who had previously lost their health insurance. This bill, entitled “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013”, essentially allows insurance companies to continue to sell policies that do not meet Obamacare standards for coverage. If the bill becomes law it would undermine much of what the Affordable Care Act was created to fix. Many have suggested that this ‘revolt’ by House Dems is an attempt to placate the constituents of fellow Democratic congressmen up for reelection next year. Thus any suggestion by an opponent that the incumbent failed to vote in favor of a measure which could have helped members of their district could prove disastrous come Election Day.
No one expected the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would be a perfectly smooth process, but no one expected it to turn out as badly as it has. Although there are currently a lot of problems with the system, it is possible they could be fixed in the next few months. However, if the problems are not addressed soon, it could make it easier for the Republican Party to have a serious discussion about repealing the Affordable Care Act in the near future. Only time will tell as to what the legacy of Obamacare will be. The American public may look back ten years from now and see it as a miserable failure that caused endless partisan bickering, or as a success that allowed millions of Americans to gain access to quality healthcare at an affordable price.