Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Obamacare Has Some Glitches. So What.

The time to declare whether the program is a failure is not a few days into it’s very existence.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    To hear some folks tell it, Obamacare is doomed because people are having problems with a web site.

    Across the land, pundits and political opponents of President Obama and his attempt to fix fundamental problems in America’s healthcare system are saying technical glitches and site crashes that have plagued the rollout for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, prove the entire program is a failure.

    To hear these people tell it, the fact that some people have been unable to sign on to the main Obamacare website, HealthCare.gov, or create accounts means the entire system should be scratched, healthcare reform scrapped and President Obama impeached.

    I say enough. While there’s no doubt Obamacare is a flawed approach to a nearly overwhelming problem, and little dispute that the Obama administration itself bungled the introduction of its signature domestic policy achievement, the time to declare whether the program is a failure is not a few days into it’s very existence.

    Instead, the time to judge if the program is a success is years down the road, when we learn as a country if the ACA allowed millions of currently uninsured Americans access to quality healthcare they wouldn’t otherwise have had, increased the overall delivery of high-quality healthcare and lowered the long-term deficit, driven in large part by skyrocketing healthcare costs.

    As recently as 2012, as many as 84 million people―nearly half of all working-age U.S. adults―went without health insurance for a time or had out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income they were considered underinsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund. The same year, more than two of five (41 percent) adults ages 19 to 64, or 75 million people, reported problems paying their medical bills. Further, more an estimated 80 million people reported cost-related problems getting needed health care, up from 37 percent or 63 million people in 2003, such as not going to the doctor when sick or not filling a prescription.

    And while there’s much debate over how and how much the ACA will accomplish what it sets out to do, it wasn’t created to ensure people had an easy time figuring out a web site to enroll. In 2010, the Urban Institute estimated that under ACA, the share of nonelderly adults without health insurance will decline by 27.8 million, from 18.6 percent to 8.3 percent, while the number of nonelderly uninsured below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) would drop by 19.4 million.

    Nearly 30 percent of those at all income levels who would have been uninsured without ACA will be covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), while nearly 20 percent will be covered under the new health insurance exchanges and an additional 10 percent are expected to be covered by private insurance outside the exchanges.

    As well, through a wealth of programs and initiatives designed to increase efficiency, maximize quality of care and spur innovation, ACA was designed to drive down the overall cost of care in the system. Any cost reductions are expected to allow federal and state governments to reduce current spending on the uninsured, helping to attack chronically high budget deficits. The Urban Institute estimated that overall spending by individuals, employers, the government and uncompensated care would be higher under the ACA than without reform by $53.1 billion or 4.5 percent.

    Meanwhile, 150,000 people in New York state have successfully signed up for a health insurance plan using New York state's website, according to the Albany Times Union. And 48 million uninsured and 20 million insured people have already visited Obamacare’s main web site, Healthcare.gov, looking for information. And probably some help.

    So, for all of those people out there who have nothing better to do than worry about whether a web site is slow or are openly rooting for Obamacare’s failure as a result, I say stop it.

    Whatever the technical problems Obamacare is having doesn't detract from the fact that the American healthcare system is broken, and its going to take years, not weeks, to figure out if Obamacare is a success or not.