Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Obamacare gets off a deathbed it was never on

TODAY, PRESIDENT OBAMA made a bid to re-introduce the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effectively re-rolling out the rollout of his defining domestic policy achievement, and doing what, frankly, he and his administration should have done back in the day of October: rescue the national conversation on Obamacare from the national media, focus on the success stories, and cultivate the narrative emerging from Americans who think Obamacare works, pundit pronouncements notwithstanding.

The president admitted as much today at a health care event at the Eisenhower Office Building in Washington. “That’s what’s gotten lost over the last couple of months,” he said. “Our focus rightly had to shift to working 24/7 to fix the web site, HealthCare.gov, for the new marketplaces where people can buy affordable insurance plans. And today, the web site is working well for the vast majority of users.”

But that’s not entirely true. In fact, Obamacare has had its successes from early on, wins that could have been more of the public face of the law’s implementation even as the web site was being repaired. To use an old saying, the Obama White House has always been able to chew gum and walk up a flight of stairs at the same time. Today’s comments from the president underscored what the White House didn’t emphasize enough and what the mainstream media generally ignored: the Affordable Care Act was always about something more than a balky web site.

As more people realize that, it’s clear that Obamacare is back from a deathbed it was never on in the first place.

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On Tuesday, President Obama resisted the temptation to rely on glittering generalities to defend the law; this time he got specific, and personal, in ways that couldn’t have been more effective.

“The other day I got a letter from Julia Walsh in California. Earlier this year, Julia was diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma. ‘I have a lot of things to worry about,’ she wrote. ‘But thanks to the [Affordable Care Act], there are lots of things I do not have to worry about, like…whether there will be a lifetime cap on benefits, [or] whether my treatment will bankrupt my family…I can’t begin to tell you how much that peace of mind means ...’ That’s what the Affordable Care Act means to Julia. ...

“Sam Weir, a doctor in North Carolina, emailed me the other day. ‘The coming years will be challenging for all of us in family medicine,’ he wrote. ‘But my colleagues and I draw strength from knowing that beginning with the new year the preventive care many of our current patients have been putting off will be covered and the patients we have not yet seen will finally be able to get the care that they have long needed.’ That’s the difference that the Affordable Care Act will make for many of Dr. Weir’s patients. ...

“At the young age of 23, Justine Ula is battling cancer for the second time. And the other day, her mom, Joann, emailed me from Cleveland University Hospital where Justine is undergoing treatment. She told me she stopped by the pharmacy to pick up Justine’s medicine. If Justine were uninsured, it would have cost her $4,500. But she is insured -- because the Affordable Care Act has let her and three million other young people like Monica gain coverage by staying on their parents’ plan until they’re 26. And that means Justine’s mom, all she had to cover was the $25 co-pay.”

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THESE UNSOLICITED testimonials are the best kind of talking points for Obama. They’re not Beltway boilerplate or antagonistic bromides from the right-wing media. They’re from real everyday people, and as such irrefutable by the conservatives who’ve worked to bring down Obamacare since the president signed it into law.

Which hasn’t stopped conservatives from continuing to work against Obamacare. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor misstated the facts of the risk of identity theft or compromise on the HealthCare web site, according to FactCheck.org. Cantor’s distortion came during a House Republican press conference today, when he said “an Obama administration official described HealthCare.gov’s ‘security problems’ as ‘limitless’ prior to the website’s launch.” That official actually deemed the security risk ‘acceptable’ in a Sept. 3 memo that authorized the website to operate,” Fact Check reported.

That follows another smear, one made by GOP Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, who claimed that Consumer Reports warned “Americans not to go to the [HealthCare.gov] website because of the fear of having fraud,” when in fact Consumer Reports said no such thing.

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But while cards and letters to the president put Obamacare’s progress in somewhat historical terms, and smears and distortions put it in purely fictional terms, they all take a back seat to the new news: It’s a living thing.

The HealthCare.gov web site, the literal face of the Affordable Care Act, has seen big improvements since it launched in October. White House officials reported Monday that the site received about 1 million visitors. It wasn’t clear how many of those actually signed up for insurance, but the fact that that many people got on the site itself with no bad incidents is an improvement in itself.

But there’s more in the works. “In recent weeks, top administration officials have visited Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix, northern New Jersey, Tampa, Orlando, Detroit and San Antonio, home collectively to more than 7 million uninsured,” reported The Huffington Post on Tuesday, in a story that made mention of one of the best things about official efforts to alert the public: the fact that millions of uninsured are concentrated in America’s biggest cities, making it a relatively simple matter, logistically speaking, to reach and inform these people about Obamacare and its advantages for them.

“We approached it much like you would a political campaign with mailings, door knockings, repeated attempts. And phone banking,” said Sean Wherley, a spokesman with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, in California. “You need to hit people multiple times from multiple formats. One to get them, two to help them understand how this works and get them to an event where they can actually enroll,” Wherley told HuffPost.

And the president did his part at Tuesday’s event in Washington. “I’m going to need some help in spreading the word,” he said. “I need you to spread the word about the law, about its benefits, about its protections, about how folks can sign up. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Do not let the initial problems with the web site discourage you because it’s working better now and it’s just going to keep on working better over time.”

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GOOD NEWS may or may not travel fast, but it travels. And when the good news comes from the grassroots ... it matters.

Mdw01 in The New Republic: “There is no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison of pre-ACA and now. You now get to keep your children on your policy 7 years longer. No lifetime limits on insurance. Savings on prescriptions. Free wellness care. Mental health care is the same as physical care...no limits on visits, etc. These and many more things were never available in the past. In the past if you were diagnosed as terminal, your insurance was either more expensive or cancelled. If your newborn was diagnosed with an illness it was nearly impossible to get insurance and if you did it was extremely expensive. As to the prices being a bit more than your previous plan, that has been happening for as long as I can remember. If you get your insurance through your employer, check your old W-2's. Also look at how coverage decreased while co-pays increased. On and on...bottom line is the ACA is the best thing to happen to this country for decades.”

A story in The Huffington Post on Tuesday tried to distill an explanation in its own headline: “Here’s Why Obamacare Is Going to Work.”

The story’s lead made it clear: “With the website now quasi-functional, there are good reasons to believe that the Affordable Care Act will catch on. Quite simply, there are tens of millions of uninsured people who want health insurance, a law in place to help them obtain it, and advocates on the ground making sure they know how to do it.”

But you can put it even more simply than that. Here’s why Obamacare is going to work:

Because it’s working already.

Image credits: Obama: WH.gov. FactCheck.org logo: © 2013 Annenberg Public Policy Center. Tweets by their creators.

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