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Topics: Obamacare

Modest Obamacare reforms insured more people than massive system overhaul

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,Obamacare,Health Care Exchanges

The Los Angeles Times, citing studies and information the Obama administration most certainly knows about but won't release, reports that 9.5 million previously uninsured people now have health coverage because of Obamacare. Look for that 9.5 million, or perhaps a rounded-up 10 million, to be come the talking point for Obamacare supporters in coming days.

The Times says the numbers break down like this: 4.5 million previously uninsured people are now on Medicaid; 3 million previously uninsured young people are now covered because of a provision that allows them to stay on their parents' policies until age 26; and 2 million previously uninsured people have purchased coverage on the Obamacare exchanges. In all, it is "the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century," according to the Times.

Assume all the numbers are correct, or at least close to correct. By far the largest part of Obamacare's health coverage expansion has come from a) expanding Medicaid, and b) allowing young people to stay on their parents' coverage. The part where Democrats essentially blew up the health care markets, imposed the individual mandate, and caused premiums to rise and deductibles to skyrocket? That hasn't been such a success. If the Times number are correct, all of that -- placing new burdens of higher costs and narrower choices on millions of Americans, in addition to setting the stage for coming changes in employer-based coverage -- has resulted in two million of the previously uninsured gaining coverage.

The bottom line is that Democrats could have enacted two relatively small changes (small relative to the entirety of Obamacare, that is) in the health care system and achieved most of what Obamacare has achieved so far. Would Republicans have supported such changes back in 2009 and 2010? Who knows? Maybe a few would have -- certainly the until-26 change -- but the point is in the brief period when Obamacare was enacted, Democrats had about 255 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate. They could do what they wanted, which included pursuing more modest reforms that would have helped millions. Or they could blow things up and impose burdens on millions even as they helped others. Acting on decades of pent-up demand to take control of the health care system, they chose to blow things up. And that is the context for today's new numbers.

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