My Turn: Running on Obamacare failure is a false premise
It is impossible to ignore the New Hampshire Obamacare sign-up numbers announced last week. The number of New Hampshire people who signed up for health insurance blew away all expectations. The numbers were double what had been expected. As the Monitor reported on May 2, more than 40,000 enrolled.
As I recall, there were months of premature accusations of Obamacare failure. If you watched cable news, it was a regular right-wing sound bite. Just associate the term “Obamacare” with failure. If you say it enough times, that will make it so. The numbers now show that association is a big lie. The numbers have killed.
How to explain the success of Obamacare in New Hampshire? Credit must go to Karen Hicks, the project manager for Covering New Hampshire and a dedicated team of consumer assistants in our state who helped to connect people to and enroll them in New Hampshire’s Obamacare marketplace. They did an outstanding job. They had to overcome a rocky start with the early miserable performance of the healthcare.gov website. They were able to recover with a strong finish in March and April.
The numbers do reflect the degree of need in the community. Health care has been so expensive and insurance has been so expensive that Obamacare could not have been more timely. So many signed up because they needed it, and there was no other practical, affordable alternatives.
I do think the success of Obamacare in New Hampshire calls into question the whole political strategy of making opposition to health care reform your platform centerpiece. To maintain and sustain that, you have to ignore or obfuscate what actually has happened.
The best example of the right-wing dilemma was when a campaigning Scott Brown spoke at the home of New Hampshire state Rep. Herb Richardson, a Lancaster Republican. In his March campaign stop, Brown called Obamacare “a monstrosity.” What he did not know was that Richardson and his wife had hugely benefited from Obamacare.
Richardson had been injured at his job. He had been out of work and was receiving worker’s compensation benefits. He had lost his home as a result of his financial dilemma. Before Obamacare, he had been paying more than $1,100 a month under federal COBRA law. That was over half his income.
Under Obamacare, with the benefit of a health care subsidy, Richardson and his wife were able to lower their health insurance costs to $136 a month, an 88 percent reduction in cost. That is a reduction of almost $1,000 a month, a savings of over $10,000 a year. Richardson’s wife was quoted telling Brown “thank god for Obamacare.” Brown apparently said little in response.
This little story highlights a central problem for Obamacare opponents. They have counted on the program flopping. Instead, the program is resurgent, and it is attracting more and more people who have been in desperate need of affordable insurance. I think this is the same political problem experienced by earlier generations of right-wingers who had opposed Social Security and Medicare. Over time, these programs became more popular with the American people.
You have to ask Obamacare opponents: What is so great about being without health insurance? Is that part of your liberty, the freedom to be uninsured? Opponents have repeatedly argued Obamacare is an infringement on liberty.
I am at a loss to understand the logic of seeing receipt of Obamacare as reflecting a loss of personal freedom. The “right” to be uninsured is right up there with the right to starve. To call stuff like that a “right” is perverse. Being uninsured typically translates into an inability to access health care at all. Good luck with the emergency room.
The opponents of Obamacare have offered no credible alternative. Do opponents now want to take away affordable health insurance from the 40,000 New Hampshire residents who have signed up? They need to be asked that question. It looks like they are offering nothing but a bunch of rhetoric.
For those who are looking for health care alternatives that go further than Obamacare, I would suggest looking at Vermont’s example.
In 2011, Vermont enacted Act 48, the country’s first universal health care law. The “Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign” led by the Vermont Workers Center has been moving that effort forward. As the campaign stated, “This is the time to commit to a financing plan based on the principle of equity, which requires progressive tax-based financing so that everyone contributes according to their ability. It is time to commit to a truly universal system that puts people’s health needs first, leaves no one out, and is sufficiently funded to meet all our health care needs. The people of Vermont cannot wait any longer for a strong health care system that protects everyone’s health.”
At the federal level, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has promoted a parallel plan. Sanders has argued that health care is a right, not a privilege. He has articulated a goal of having universal affordable coverage.
It needs to be asked: Do the right-wing opponents of Obamacare think the opposite end of the spectrum is desirable? Do they want to realize their dream by having no people on insurance? Is that what liberty means? Or maybe just coverage for rich people who have no financial problem?
I see no inconsistency in supporting both Obamacare and the goal of universal coverage. Obamacare has moved us closer to the goal of full coverage. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Hats off to the Covering New Hampshire organizers and enrollment assistants! It will be interesting to see if Obamacare opponents slink off or maintain. With the new Obamacare numbers in our state, either way is a lose-lose for them.
(Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is an administrative law judge. His column reflects his own view and not that of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)