WASHINGTON — After a very messy start, Obamacare is here to stay. That’s the main message President Barack Obama delivered Tuesday where he bragged about the 7,041,000 who enrolled in private health insurance plans by the Monday deadline.
“There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived,” Obama said in remarks from the Rose Garden.
The speech was designed to mute the GOP critics — at least give it another try — who are still calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and buck up Democrats who worry about being attacked in November for supporting the law.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday unveiled his proposed fiscal 2015 budget — and it included repealing Obamacare. Republicans who run the House have had more than 50 votes to repeal Obamacare.
So since it can’t happen — the Democrats control the Senate — Ryan’s document can only be seen as more political than serious policy.
Republicans are raising questions about the 7 million enrollees who signed up in state and federal exchanges that the Obama administration should answer — sooner than later:
♦ How many people who signed had no health insurance at all — and how many jumped into the exchanges after their policies were not renewed because of Obamacare.
♦ How many have actually paid their health insurance bill — called the “premium.”
♦ How many of the most coveted customers — young folks between 18 and 34 who presumably are the most healthy — signed up.
But whatever the answers are to these questions, they don’t automatically add up to the crumbling of Obamacare, so I’m not sure why the anti-Obamacare GOP puts so much emphasis on them.
Obamacare “doesn’t mean that all the problems in health care have been solved forever,” Obama said.
Premiums may go up, Obama noted. But that’s not a special indictment of Obamacare. People who bought health insurance pre-Obamacare always and still face the prospects of higher costs. Things change when doctors opt out of a particular plan.
In any case, the enrollment numbers may still climb. There were folks in the enrollment pipeline who will be allowed to finish applications that were incomplete by the deadline. Obama estimated that 3 million young adults gained coverage by being allowed to stay on their parents policy until the age of 26.
Of course, they could go down. But Democrats, with the 7 million signups, have a lot more ammunition in defending the law as they head toward November elections.
“Regardless of your politics, or your feelings about me, or your feelings about this law, this is something that’s good for economy, and it’s good for our country. And there’s no good reason to go back,” Obama said.
Obama tried to preempt critics.
“There will be days when the website stumbles — I guarantee it. . . . There will be parts of the law that will still need to be improved. And if we can stop refighting old political battles that keep us gridlocked, then we could actually make the law work even better for everybody.”
The 7 million enrollees did not impress Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“We don’t know, of course, exactly what they’ve signed up for. We don’t know how many have paid,” he said at a press conference.
“What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare. Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, what they’re discovering is, of course, higher premiums, higher deductibles. Many of them are losing their jobs. And so it is really a catastrophe for the country, both for the health care providers and the consumers.”
But it is not a catastrophe for everybody. Obamacare has flaws. As I wrote on Monday, even some of Obama’s fans have been unpleasantly surprised when they could not renew their policies and had to shift to more expensive coverage.
But Republicans lost their chance to bury Obamacare. Even if the GOP takes the Senate in November, it will be hard to turn off Obamacare. And more difficut if, as Obama hopes, folks are convinced that just like Social Security and Medicare, Obamacare is here to stay.