Obamacare — October 2, 2013 at 8:23 am

OBAMACARE DAY TWO: Some reflections after an historic day


That was a day we will all remember

President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, photo by Congressman Keith Ellison

Well, I looked out the window the morning, Day Two of Obamacare, and the sky was still UP and the sun was rising. IN THE WEST! No, wait [turns around] IN THE EAST! Despite warnings of the end of times being upon us if we dared to offer affordable health care insurance to millions upon millions of working Americans, the earth appears to continue to rotate and orbit the sun. Go figure.

The reports out of Michigan and across the country put to rest the idea the “Americans don’t want Obamacare”, the message that the Republicans have been drilling into our heads for months and years now. Computer systems got so much traffic on the first day, over 10 million visitors according to one estimate, that they were only available sporadically, something completely predictable (and predicted), of course. The pent up demand for affordable health insurance was being demonstrated so clearly that even Republicans could see it.

This, of course, didn’t stop Republicans like Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers for being complete children about it. Rogers sent out this dickish tweet:

Oh, hardy har har. This from a guy whose party launched their own website a few years back, GOP.com, a site that got a teeny tiny fraction of the traffic the health insurance exchanges saw yesterday, and it crashed over and over and over again the day they rolled it out:

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday tried to downplay criticism of its newly unveiled website www.gop.com, which was plagued by embarrassing omissions and numerous crashes on its first day of operation…[T]he site was inaccessible for much of the day.

RNC New Media Director Todd Herman said the site was struggling from attracting “an enormous amount of traffic” […]

Asked why the site kept crashing, Steele quipped, “It’s a little thing called traffic.”

“This thing has exploded off the blocks,” [RNC Chairman Michael] Steele insisted. “It’s a good thing when you get another email from Todd saying, ‘It’s down again.’”

So, there’s that.

I heard from countless people yesterday who were thrilled to discover that they were going to pay less now for their health insurance; in some cases much less. On the other hand, some companies are simply doing the math and determining that it’s cheaper to either pay the fines for not offering affordable health insurance or cutting hours of their employees to avoid having to offer it. Here in Michigan, the Kroger grocery chain has begun a process of not hiring full-time checkout clerks. Instead, most of their employees are now working 28 hours or less so that they don’t fall under the requirement for health care coverage. What’s most egregious about this is that, due to a glitch in the law, they may end up working more than 28 hours. The requirement is that they not be scheduled for 30 or more.

This is truly the collision of the drive for profits with social responsibility. Some companies, MOST companies, see offering good health care coverage as a good thing, a moral thing, and something that will attract the best employees. The others, like Kroger, see workers as just one more variable to control to maximize profits. Social responsibility is clearly not part of the equation for these companies. More’s the pity.

Republicans will tell you that’s the fault of the Affordable Care Act. I will tell you it’s greed.

There are a couple of things that occurred to me yesterday. First, there is no question that the ACA is a boon to the insurance market. Some folks are upset about this, of course. Like me, they’d like to see our country offer single-payer, universal health care, with health insurance companies out of the picture. But the reality of Congress today, one which couldn’t even stomach a public option in the health insurance exchanges, is that that was never going to happen.

But this influx of new customers for health insurance companies is also an opportunity for some innovation and fresh competition in the insurance market:

Today is, in some ways, the grand opening of Obamacare. It’s the day that open enrollment begins for state health exchanges. But several of the nation’s largest health insurers are sitting out the exchanges. And this has created an opportunity for smaller companies to expand their business.

L.A. Care is a health plan provider located on the 10th floor of a high rise in downtown Los Angeles. It only offers plans to low-income individuals through Medicare and Medicaid. But starting today, anyone can buy private insurance form L.A Care.

“This is our first move into the market,” says Howard Kahn, the CEO of L.A. Care. “So this is a big jump for us, and it’s in response to health care reform.” […]

He anticipates hiring an additional 100 employees just to handle the phones.

These new companies, not bogged down by the vast bureaucracy of monolithic insurance giants, will be part of creating a more competitive market now that the exchanges are open. Think about it: this big flux of new customers won’t just be deciding what company to buy insurance from this year. They can do it every year afterwards, too. They can go on the exchanges and make real comparisons. The companies offering a good value — decent coverage for an affordable price — are going to do well. The ones ripping off their customers won’t. It’s pure, free market-driven capitalism, so pure that it’s surprising Republicans aren’t mainlining it.

The other thing that became readily apparent to most working Americans yesterday is that the ACA and the opening of the health insurance exchanges simply do not affect them. They get to keep their employer-based health insurance (like I do.) They get to keep their doctors. If it has any impact at all, in the vast majority of cases either their coverage will improve or they will see their premiums actually go down.

This lack of cataclysm, a cataclysm Republicans have been screaming about for months but simply will not come to pass, is going to show them for the hyper-partisan liars that they are. The sky will stay up and the world will continue to turn. This is the biggest fear of opponents to the ACA: that it won’t be the debacle they giddily cheer for it to be. Their gleeful cheerleading for failure to provide affordable health care coverage for Americans is nauseating.

Yesterday would have been historic if the opening of the ACA exchanges was the only thing that happened but the confluence of that significant event with the Republican shutdown of our government made it even more memorable. There will come a day when people like me tell our grandchildren, “I remember the day Obamacare began and the Republicans shutdown the federal government at the same time.”

But, sure enough, when you went to government websites like WhiteHouse.gov, you saw this:

The irony of this is that they shut down the government to stop Obamacare on the very day it rolled out, unimpeded by their antics.

An historic day, to be sure.