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Between the Lines: No Cheers for Obamacare

The president’s political problems are beside the point.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A recent editorial in the Springfield Republican defending Obamacare revealed just how shallow the region’s biggest daily paper can be in its endless pandering to Democrats. The Republican’s insipid “Obamacare’s critics continue their carping” represents the disconnect between the world of politics and media and the real world­ —a scary world filled with envelopes that come day after day into American homes bearing phrases like “Important Plan Information” and “News About Changes to Your Plan.” Or my favorite: “This Is Not a Bill.”

It’s not so scary in the Republican’s view. “The doctor is in, and the Website is up,” the Dec. 3 editorial begins. “While this won’t come close to quieting Obamacare’s army of critics, it does provide an opportunity to ask what exactly it is they are after.” Who are the critics? Congressional Republicans, of course. And what do they want? To see Obama fail. The newspaper pulls out a favorite White House talking point: “Opposing everything the president supports isn’t a policy.”

But Congressional Republicans aren’t the critics who matter. And the political damage Obamacare has done and will do to Democrats in the months to come is hardly an issue of immediate importance for anyone who doesn’t earn a living playing politics.

I’m not a Republican (not a Democrat, either) and I think Obamacare is a mess. I think it does a few very important good things, but its overall design and implementation are deeply flawed. For me, the name of the law—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—illuminates the fork in the road: the Patient Protection part works; the Affordable Care part doesn’t.

For all its merits, with all the smart people who work in healthcare, the system is warped by bureaucratic ineptitude and self-interest at the highest ranks of government and industry. Obamacare won’t change that. Its botched implementation and Obama’s open-field run around unpopular mandates are harbingers of more trouble ahead.

“So there’s more work to be done. But before despairing, how about pausing to cheer the successes?” the Republican pleads.

No. I despair. Dealing with my mother’s healthcare, I see what kind of “Important Plan Information” bombards people in their 70s. Plans to read, forms to complete, bills to pay, questions to answer. Yet when we meet directly with health care providers, we spend hours completing more paperwork, explaining details repeatedly to a poorly connected network of practitioners who, despite their best efforts, seem just as lost in the mess as we are.

As a Massachusetts resident, I’ve witnessed what happens when a legitimate impulse toward healthcare reform is skewed by political “compromise.” Here we did a good thing, insuring many who were previously uninsured. But we hurt others by mandating that everyone buy insurance and sidestepping the larger failings of the system. While Commonwealth Care no doubt improved healthcare for some, most people not receiving subsidized care continue to see skyrocketing increases and reductions in coverage. Obamacare also protects patient’s rights in important ways, but it is also undermined by reliance on mandates and by failure to look at the appalling difficulties all Americans, not just the poor, confront daily in their battle for health.•

 

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