The biggest myth of the Obamacare debate goes like this: The failures of Obamacare prove that the government can’t be trusted to run our health care system.
This single myth is so powerful that it has become the rallying cry of every Republican who’s considering a run for the presidency in 2016. It has single-handedly brought the Tea Party back to the forefront of American politics. It has been uttered on every cable news channel everyday since HealthCare.gov launched on October 1.
And it is wrong on every possible level.
First of all, the premise is wrong. Obamacare cannot be a litmus test for government-run health care because Obamacare is not government-run health care.
Obamacare creates an online exchange where people can buy private insurance. The government merely sets basic standards that every plan has to meet and gives consumers a place where they can locate those plans. The rest is up to the free market.
This simple concept has been so twisted and misunderstood that many Americans actually believe that the government will have access to their medical records. This is completely false. Under Obamacare, the IRS only needs to verify that you have health insurance. It does not — and cannot — see any of your private health information.
The second problem with this myth is that it’s too soon to judge Obamacare. All new software goes through a trial period. It’s frustrating, but it’s inevitable — and temporary.
Back in 2005, the same thing happened when the Bush administration launched the website for Medicare Part D. First, they had to delay the launch. Then, when they finally rolled it out, it didn’t work at all. Then they got it working, but it was too slow and full of inaccuracies.
Every major news outlet carried stories about the failures of Medicare Part D. According to polling data, the program was actually less popular than Obamacare is today.
Within a few months, the glitches were fixed. Medicare Part D now has a 90 percent approval rating. No one remembers the initial bugs in the system.
The third problem is that many of the so-called “failures” of Obamacare aren’t actually Obamacare’s fault. Remember that Obamacare wasn’t supposed to create one big national insurance exchange. Each state was supposed to create its own insurance exchange, but the Republican governors in half of the states refused to follow the law.
As I wrote back in May, “These Republican governors, who say the states are better at governing than the feds, ceded enormous power to the federal government, violating a core principle of their party’s ideology. And then they crowed that Obamacare was a failure because it required a massive federal bureaucracy — the very bureaucracy that they chose to create!”
What’s worse, these governors didn’t announce their decisions until 2013, so it’s completely false to assert that the federal government had three years to build a national online exchange. They really only had a matter of months.
The fourth problem with this myth is that Obamacare is not a failure. This week, the government announced that more than 500,000 Americans signed up for health insurance through Obamacare in its first month of operation.
Think about that. Obamacare, with all its kinks and snafus, has already improved the lives of over half a million people.
You’ve probably heard that 106,185 people have signed up for health insurance through the new online exchange, but even more impressive is the 396,261 people who got their insurance through Medicaid or CHIP.
In all the hubbub about HealthCare.gov, we seem to have forgotten the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and the media hasn’t bothered to remind us because…well, it’s going so smoothly.
And that brings us to the fifth and most fatal flaw in this myth: The biggest success story from Obamacare has been Medicaid, the one part of the law that actually is government-run insurance. To say that the government can’t be trusted is to say that the millions of Americans who benefit from Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP don’t count and don’t matter.
That’s an ugly thing to say, but if you listen closely, you can hear it all around you. Every time the government tries to help the less fortunate, there is always a contingent of Americans who oppose it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t.
An abbreviated version of this op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Huffington Post.