Policy: Law

Obamacare: The health care law that won't die, but won't heal, either

By |
Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Obamacare,Health Care,Law

Obamacare is on the rise and on a roll again, as its backers will tell you, having passed the 7 million mark in enrolling the uninsured (although it's really 5.9 million or so, and most of those enrolled had been insured already), but it's back on its feet.

"Can the GOP Succeed by Running Against health care?" ran the headline in Time, and the answer was no.

"In the 7 1/2 months between now and November's midterm elections, millions of Americans will be whipped into a frenzy over the purported evils in the Democrats' health care bill, egged on by Fox News chatter, Rush Limbaugh's daily sermons, threats of state legislative and judicial action and the solemn pledge of Republicans in Washington to make the fall election a referendum on Obamacare," as Mark Halperin tells us. "But in doing so, they may be playing right into the Democrats' hands."

And why so? The help of the press, the help of the unions, the fact that Republicans "sounded shrill and angry, sometimes hysterical. ... The president and his allies will argue mightily in the coming days that the great war over health care has ended," he concluded, while Republicans claimed it was only beginning, and he was certain the former would win. It all sounds convincing, except for the fact that the Time story appeared on March 2010; which was a very good year for Republicans, but they didn't "win" either. Four years later, no one is winning, and no one is sure where it stands.

Twice, the health care law seemed on the brink of extinction -- the Supreme Court case in 2012 and the presidential election -- and twice it escaped. Four other times, it seemed poised for a victory lap -- when it passed; when it survived the court challenge; when Obama won re-election; and when it enrolled 7 million, or 6 million, or 5.7 million, in its opening phases -- and victory failed to arrive.

"This is not a success story, it's a survival story," wrote Ramesh Ponnuru of the last instance. "It looks like more than that only because for a few weeks ... the rollout made Obamacare's collapse seem like a possibility ... Now that it's resolved, the debate continues basically along the same lines that everyone expected a year ago."

The lines expected a year ago were that the law would not die, but would not flourish either, and some things have gone somewhat worse than predicted in 2013. Parts of the law were dropped or delayed, some state exchanges are still chaotic and the law has become somewhat less popular. In short, it’s not dead, but calling it alive would be a misnomer: It’s surviving on life support, depending on delays, exemptions and phony statistics. The 7.1 million is probably 6 million and possibly less so, and some have not paid. It’s not doing what it intended to: Most of the enrollees are people kicked off their old plans, which they seemed to like better, and most of the true uninsured don’t seem interested. Worse, since the rollout it’s become clear that the bill only passed because nobody knew what was in it, and Obama won in 2012 because the implementation was delayed until after the election was over, and he lied (repeatedly) about "keeping your plan."

Sometimes Obamacare seems like the Eternal Return, each new event circling back to the status quo ante, never quite different than what had been earlier. Neither the death blows nor the victory laps have been too conclusive. The patient cannot heal himself.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
View article comments Leave a comment