[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ow that the Obamacare sign-up deadline has more or less passed, it is more or less official: Obamacare is not a catastrophe.
With a little luck, it might even someday be a success. But as of now, not being a catastrophe is all that is required.
And for that, we can thank the many Obamacare detractors.
They set the bar. When the rollout proved to be a disaster, when the sign-up numbers looked bleak, when the poll numbers were in free fall, when Barack Obama’s approval ratings began to cave, when the so-called “cancellation” numbers rolled in, when it looked as if the years of Obamacare-bashing were going to pay off, the news went out: catastrophe, failure, epic failure, disaster, epic disaster.[pullquote]The Rand Corporation is reporting that 9.5 million previously uninsured people are now insured. Set that number alongside the likelihood that the exchange will hit its target of 7 million and you have to agree with conservative columnist Ross Douthat when he writes, with some regret, that “Obamacare lives!”[/pullquote]
That became the narrative. It used to be enough to say that Obamacare would crash the economy (somehow it hasn’t) or that there would be death panels (which apparently haven’t yet gone into session).
In the National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke put it plainly: “Obamacare: Worst Policy Disaster Ever? Period.”
Now we have the answer. No, it isn’t. Exclamation point.
We don’t know all the numbers, but we know enough of them. The big news on the final day was that the traffic on healthcare.gov was so jammed that the system crashed. You’ll remember the first day when the system crashed, and the Obama administration tried, vainly, to explain it away by saying it was the traffic. This time, it seems as if it really was.
Despite the glitches, which this time really were glitches, Obama officials said 3 million had made it to healthcare.gov. Another million reportedly got through on the phone.
But that wasn’t the biggest news. The Los Angeles Times has put together what may be the most comprehensive Obamacare account — much of it based on yet-to-be-published Rand Corporation numbers — showing that at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people are now insured. That was before the full-on race to the finish line, which wasn’t really the finish line. To the dismay of Republicans, those who still wish to sign up for Obamacare have weeks to do so if they simply say that they didn’t have time to finish. (This just in for conspiracy theorists: Does that explain the last-day glitches?)
You put that 9.5 million number alongside the likelihood now that the exchange number will hit its target of 7 million and you have to agree with conservative columnist Ross Douthat when he writes, with some regret, that “Obamacare lives!”
On the same day, a Washington Post-ABC poll came in with the news that 49 percent approved of Obamacare against 48 percent who didn’t. That’s not a great number. It’s not even particularly good. But it’s definitely not a catastrophe. And, in fact, it’s the first time that Obamacare had ever come in on the plus side in this poll.
Some are already calling the poll an outlier, and maybe it is. But what’s clear is the improvement from last November, in the days of the disastrous rollout, when the numbers were 40 to 57 against. The momentum seems to have shifted.
Still, you can hardly blame Republicans for going all in when the opportunity came. The first year was always going to be the most difficult. If Obamacare was going to fail, it was going to fail at the start.
And they had heard the Rand Paul warning that if Obamacare goes into effect, people will get hooked on it. This wasn’t just a matter of the Republican takers vs. makers paradigm. As the Incidental Economist blog pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office predicts Obamacare numbers will take off. The CBO has Medicaid enrollees growing by 50 percent by 2015 and the exchange number to double. It predicts the exchanges to hit as many as 25 million by 2017. How do you repeal the law then? Quick answer: You don’t.
Sure, questions abound. Whether enough young people will sign up. Whether the premiums will shoot up. Whether the insurance is good enough to keep its enrollees. Whether word of mouth will encourage or discourage others. There’s still the mandate — the least popular part of Obamacare — and there are the fines to come.
The political question is what this all means for November and whether it hurts Republican chances to retake the Senate. Republicans will say the numbers are skewed. One senator has said the books were cooked. And whatever the momentum, Democrats are still on the defensive, and it is the dreaded sixth year of the Obama administration. Even Nate Silver says the Republicans are now favored. A Washington Post blog put the Republican chances at 80 percent.
Of course, that was when the lie of the year — as Politifact judged it, anyway — was Obama’s claim that you could keep your insurance policy if you liked it. But, just days ago, we had John Boehner claiming that, because of the so-called cancellations, fewer people had health insurance now than when Obamacare began.
It was hardly believable when Boehner said it. It’s obviously untrue now.
And now that the new numbers are in, someone, it seems, will have to come up with a new lie.