All across America, Conservative commentators are jumping up and down, waving their hands in the air, pointing at glitches in the month-old roll-out of Obamacare and yelling “I told you so!” Republicans are so eager to turn attention away from their destructive shenanigans in the budget and debt ceiling debate that more column inches have been devoted to the launch of a website than at any other time in human history. None of them, of course, go so far as to suggest an alternative to fix the actual problem: the 50 million uninsured Americans who could go bankrupt at the first appearance of major illness.
One such offender was fellow columnist Ben Kinney ’15. His column of last week contained a number of the troubling factual errors that have characterized the entire debate. First was the assertion that he lost faith in the workability of the Affordable Care Act while watching Kathleen Sebelius flub an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart just weeks ago. I understand as well as anyone the temptation to use a recent statement to jump into a column (case in point) but I suspect that Kinney belongs firmly in the camp of the Republicans rooting against the program — and doing their best to sabotage its success — from its inception.
More troubling was Kinney’s claim that “The Obama Administration has already spent half-a-billion dollars creating an unusable website…how can we trust it to effectively manage the complex and varied health care needs of 400 million Americans?” This would be a reasonable criticism, if it were in any way correct. Kinney overestimated the number of Americans by 83 million and the cost of the website by roughly $400 million according to the fact-checking website Media Matters. To be fair, he was not alone in this error; much like the $200 million-per-day India trip in 2010, the myth of the absurdly expensive website has flown through a gleeful conservative media looking for any shred of evidence to pin the President as an old-school tax-and-spend liberal.
Kinney’s later claims are less defective in their veracity than deceptive in their scope. He says that health insurance premiums under Obamacare are significantly higher than current premiums. This ignores the vast majority of owners of health insurance plans, who get their coverage through their employers, Medicaid, or Medicare. Those who will see their rates increase are the five percent of Americans who purchase their insurance as individuals and an additional five percent who previously had no health insurance. Some of those people were young, healthy and had previously opted not to purchase insurance. Unsurprisingly, buying health insurance instead of playing a literal game of Russian roulette with fatal illness represents a rate increase for those individuals. A quarter of people who previously did not buy health insurance were unable to do so due to a preexisting illness. For them, the coverage they will gain from the law represents the difference between a nonzero monthly cost and complete medical bankruptcy, or death.
Many of the cheaper plans purchased by consumers in this individual marketplace prior to the law cost less for a reason — they were the insurance equivalent of a shot of whisky and a prayer. They wouldn’t cover the cost of an ambulance or a night in the hospital, and they could be cancelled during treatment due to costs. Obamacare will subsidize the increased cost of health insurance for people making less than 400 percent above the poverty line, but that cannot get around the fact that owning usable health insurance will always cost more than useless or absent insurance — until disaster strikes.
Health insurance, plain and simple, saves lives. When Conservatives point to website glitches and the states across the nation who have refused to expand Medicaid to bring coverage to the uninsured and call Obamacare a failure, they’re ignoring the greater tragedy. The website will eventually be fixed. The states refusing to expand coverage have done so out of ideological spite. And in the richest nation in the world, Americans continue to die because they cannot afford to buy health insurance. Instead of pointing at these failings as a sign that the twice-elected President isn’t so great after all, how about working on a solution?