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Federal health care is still unproven

Recently I received a mailing from the Democratic National Committee. Tailored to each recipient, mine read “Obamacare is winning, Dennis” in the subject line.

The text read, in part, “For years, the GOP has been calling Obamacare things like ‘The most dangerous piece of legislation every passed.’

Now that Obamacare has started to kick in, how’s that prediction looking? 12 million more Americans will have health insurance in 2014 because of Obamacare.

Premiums through the insurance exchanges will be lower than expected and hundreds of millions of Americans are already benefiting from things like preventive services with no copays, staying on their parents’ plans until they turn 26, no more lifetime caps on coverage, not more discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.”

This kind of spin on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is common among Democrats, and it has been highly successful at winning over journalists, too, who bought into it like crazy. For example:

“Obamacare enrollments hit 8 million” (Los Angeles Times), “Obamacare enrollment may approach 18 million” (MSNBC), “Obamacare looking more and more like success” (Atlanta Journal Constitution), “GOP’s comically inept Obamacare delusion: Why they’re so sad about the enrollment numbers” (Salon), “Obamacare’s Success Is Destroying the GOP’s Midterm Strategy” (New Republic), “Here’s Why Obamacare Will Help Democrats and Hurt Republicans” (Business Week), “Health insurance payments from Obamacare reach 80 percent” (Christian Science Monitor), “Howard Dean: Republicans in ‘Deep Trouble’ For Opposing Obamacare” (Real Clear Politics), “It’s getting harder to snicker at Obamacare” (Chicago Reader), “Obamacare numbers coming in huge: Here’s a guide to GOP excuse-making” (Los Angeles Times).

But enrollment numbers are no guide to whether the ACA is a success. After all, people are being forced to enroll. It’s against the law NOT to enroll or else have other insurance that complies with the law. We had to sign up for the draft during Vietnam but no one considered that an indicator of the draft’s popularity.

A determination of the success of the ACA is yet to come, and that is highly uncertain. There is one guide to the success, or lack of it, of ACA – how it operates and whether it delivers.

Now is when the Democrats will learn the consequences of not creating a public option in the ACA. Because they tied health care to the insurance industry, the existing system became the template for their program. Some of the things people hate about the health care system are enshrined in the Democratic health care program. Why, for example, should there be open enrollment periods just because insurance companies have them? People don’t sign up for other government programs only during fixed periods of the year. Why health insurance?

And the big item, the top-of-the-list thing that people hate about commercial health insurance that the ACA preserves is high deductibles.

Trudy Lieberman of the Columbia Journalism Review, a publication that scrutinizes press practices, has tried to get journalists to pay more attention to the deductibles aspect of ACA, which she describes as the coming “sticker shock.”

“The story going forward is, do the people who signed up know what they got – very high deductibles: $12,700 out of pocket expenses for family coverage and $6350 for singles. … That hasn’t been discussed a lot,” she wrote me at the beginning of April.

The Democrats recently exacerbated this problem when they failed to notice Republicans slipping a provision through Congress that removed a cap on deductibles “for small group policies offered inside [ACA’s] health care exchanges as well as outside. The cap was set at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.” President Obama signed the change and it became generally known only after the Associated Press reported it (though the AP story buried its importance). It’s what one columnist calls the latest incident of “repealing Obamacare one provision at a time.”

The Democrats should recall the way the Republicans prematurely declared “Mission accomplished” in 2003. The 2014 celebrations are premature.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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