Much of the Affordable Care Act must be defunded and millions of Americans must lose their health insurance, according to an opinion issued Tuesday by Judge Ronald A. White, an Oklahoma federal judge appointed to the bench by George W. Bush. White’s opinion reaches the same result reached by two Republican appeals court judges in a similar case, although that decision was later withdrawn by the full appeals court. To date, nine federal judges have considered this question of whether much of the law should be defunded. Only three — all of whom are Republicans — have agreed that it should be.
The theory behind this lawsuit, Pruitt v. Burwell, is that although the Affordable Care Act gives states a choice between setting up their own health insurance marketplaces or permitting the federal government to do it for them, health exchanges run by the federal government cannot provide subsidies to help insurance customers pay for their insurance. Should this theory ultimately be embraced by the courts, it will likely trigger a “death spiral” of premium spikes that will drive more and more consumers out of the insurance market, until the markets eventually collapse. As ThinkProgress previously explained, the thrust of the plaintiffs legal argument in this and similar cases is that Obamacare “is supposed to create barren health exchanges where little or no health insurers offer exorbitantly priced insurance that hardly anyone can afford,” and that it was supposed to create these useless exchanges despite the fact that the law explicitly states that it will achieve “near-universal coverage by building upon and strengthening the private employer-based health insurance system.”
There are many flaws in this legal theory, and we lay out several of them here and here. Nevertheless, it is worth noting a few flaws in Judge White’s legal reasoning that appear unique to his own opinion.
One thing that immediately stands out in White’s opinion is just how thin his legal reasoning is. Despite the fact that this case concerns a matter of life and death for the millions of Americans he orders uninsured, his actual discussion of the merits of this case comprises less than 7 double-spaced pages of his opinion. In that brief analysis he quotes the two other Republican judges who ordered Obamacare defunded, claiming that “the government offers no textual basis” in the Affordable Care Act itself for treating federally-run exchanges the same as those run by states. In fact, the government has identified numerous provisions of the law which cut against the argument that only some exchanges should provide subsidies.
Even more significantly, White’s opinion does not at any point acknowledge the legal standard that applies when a statute contains language that is at odds with other provisions of the law. As the Supreme Court explained in 2007, “a reviewing court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation” as the “meaning—or ambiguity—of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.” White, by contrast, relies entirely a passage that supports the plaintiffs’ arguments while ignoring the much more prevalent statutory language that supports the government’s argument.
Instead of following Supreme Court precedent, White relies heavily on analysis from a very ideological law professor. Though White’s analysis is quite short, he devotes much of it to a lengthy quote by Professor Richard Epstein, a prominent conservative academic who agrees that Obamacare should be defunded. Epstein has also described Supreme Court opinions establishing the fact that Medicare is constitutional as “catastrophic, ignorant, and uninformed decisions.” So he is a very odd source for a federal judge to rely upon in assessing the correct state of the law.
Towards the end of his opinion, White claims that the reading he gives to the Affordable Care Act — a reading which assumes that the lawmakers who enacted this politically contentious law intended to give every Republican governor in the country the power to blow up one of its central functions in their state — is not “absurd” because “it could reflect the sort of compromise that attends legislative endeavor.” Yet the only evidence he provides that Congress may have intended to “compromise” by giving Rick Perry the power to destroy Obamacare in Texas is a now-infamous quote by Professor Jonathan Gruber. Gruber is an economist who consulted with Congress in designing the law. In 2012, nearly two years after the Affordable Care Act became law, Gruber was recorded giving a talk where he said that “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”
Yet, while Gruber did indeed utter these words and they may seem damning out of context — to the extent that a statement made by a non-lawmaker long after a statute becomes law is useful in assessing the lawmakers’ intent — Judge White probably should have watched the entire video where Gruber made this statement before he cited the statement as evidence of how Obamacare was supposed to function. Here is the Gruber quote in context:
Yes, so these health insurance exchanges … will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law it says if the states don’t provide them the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting up its backstop, I think, partly because I think they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it.
I think what’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits — but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges.
Read in context, Gruber’s infamous quote takes on an entirely different meaning. It suggests that he was concerned that some people may not get insurance subsides because “federal government has been sort of slow in putting up its backstop” not because the law forbids federally-run exchanges from providing subsidies. To the contrary, Gruber explains, “[i]n the law it says if the states don’t provide them the federal backstop will.”
So White’s opinion is poorly reasoned. It ignores binding Supreme Court precedent. And it engages in selective quotation to support his conclusion. If it is reviewed by a panel of judges interested in neutrally applying the law, White will be reversed.
There is no guarantee, however, that the judges who review White’s decision will be able to set aside their partisan preferences, whatever they may be. Indeed, one of the leading attorneys spearheading these attacks on the Affordable Care Act recently told a reporter that he believes he is going to win because he does not expect to “lose any Republican-appointed judges’ votes.”
White’s opinion suggests that this attorney may be correct that judges will vote their political party, rather than voting the law when they decide this and similar cases.
From the 09.26.2014 edition of FNC’s Fox and Friends:
Any day now, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule in Halbig v. Burwell, an expansive challenge that goes directly after federal insurance subsidies. An unfavorable outcome stands to cripple a core component of Obamacare, without which the law may not be able to survive. Two of the judges, both Republican appointees, expressed varying degrees of sympathy for the challengers’ case.
"Of all the challenges since the individual mandate, this is the one that presents the most mortal threat to the act," Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, told TPM.
At issue is whether the statute permits the federal exchange (which serves residents of 34 states which opted not to build their own) to dole out premium tax credits. Without the subsidies, which are benefiting millions of lower-income Americans, the individual mandate is unworkable because many people won’t be able to afford insurance. And without the mandate, the coverage guarantee for preexisting conditions threatens to send costs soaring and destabilize the health care market.
The challenge was initially written off by some as a fool’s errand because there’s a lack of evidence that the Democrats who crafted and passed the Affordable Care Act intended to block subsidies on the federal exchange, which was designed as a backstop on behalf of the states. (They’ve signed a brief saying as much.) But the challengers seized on an ambiguity in the language of the statute which says the subsidies are to be provided by “an Exchange established by the State.”
"If the legislation is just stupid, I don’t see that it’s up to the court to save it," Judge A. Raymond Randolph said during oral arguments in March.
Randolph, a George H.W. Bush appointee, said the text of the statute “seems perfectly clear on its face” that the subsidies are confined to state-run exchanges. Carter-appointed Judge Harry T. Edwards slammed the challengers’ claims as “preposterous.” So the deciding vote appears to be with George W. Bush-appointed Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who wasn’t resolute but sounded unconvinced of the Obama administration’s defense, saying it had a “special burden” to show that the language “doesn’t mean what it appears to mean.”
Turley said, “If this case were decided on the basis of the statutory language, the advantage goes to the challengers. If the court is willing to broaden its interpretation then the administration may have an edge. It depends entirely on how the panel structures its analysis.”
If the three-judge panel rules against federal Obamacare subsidies, sources close to the case say the administration is very likely to request an en banc ruling — a re-vote taken by the full D.C. Circuit. The math of the overall bench is friendlier to the White House: 7 judges are Democratic appointees and 4 are Republican appointees. Four of the judges were placed by President Barack Obama himself, all during his second term.
The legal basis for the lawsuit was crafted by Cato’s Michael Cannon and Case Western law professor Jonathan Adler. The challengers lost the case in the D.C. district court. Cannon said on Wednesday he’s “hopeful” about winning at the appeals court.
The White House declined to comment on the pending litigation and administration officials wouldn’t weigh in on potential contingency plans if the D.C. Circuit court’s final judgment is against the Obamacare subsidies.
"The text of the statute makes clear that the state establishment of an Exchange was never viewed as a condition for the availability of tax credits," read the brief signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other legislative architects of Obamacare.
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
Sen. Mitch McConnell has some explaining to do.
What in the world did he mean last week when he told reporters that repeal of the Affordable Care Act — “root and branch,” as he has demanded many times — is “unconnected” to the future of Kynect, Kentucky’s health insurance exchange?
Asked specifically if Kynect should be dismantled, McConnell said: “I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question.”
Nothing could be more connected — or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator — than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible.
Repeal the federal law, which McConnell calls “Obamacare,” and the state exchange would collapse.
Kynect could not survive without the ACA’s insurance reforms, including no longer allowing insurance companies to cancel policies when people get sick or deny them coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as well as the provision ending lifetime limits on benefit payments. (Kentucky tried to enact such reforms in the 1990s and found out we were too small a market to do it alone.)
Kentucky’s exchange also could not survive without the federal funding and tax credits that are helping 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians gain access to regular preventive medicine, including colonoscopies, mammograms and birth control without co-pays.
As a result of a law that McConnell wants to repeal, one in 10 of his constituents no longer have to worry that an illness or injury will drive them into personal bankruptcy or a premature grave.
Repealing the federal law would also end the Medicaid expansion that is enabling Kentucky to expand desperately needed drug treatment and mental health services.
Kynect is the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare — even if Kentuckians are confused about which is which.
And, really, it’s no wonder that polls show many Kentuckians don’t know that Kynect is a direct product of President Barack Obama’s landmark law. How can average people be expected to understand if the Senate’s Republican leader still hasn’t figured it out, or at least is pretending there’s no connection?
We asked the McConnell campaign for a clarification and were sent the usual talking points and a statement saying, “If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep Kynect or set up a different marketplace,” a suggestion that is unconnected to reality.
Kentuckians are waiting to learn if their five-term senator understands — or cares — how much is at stake.
A campaign against the health care law tones down its attack, but not its weirdness factor.
Creepy Uncle Sam—last seen preparing for especially invasive evaluations of Obamacare enrollees—is back.
This time there’s no dialogue and, mercifully, no calipers: Just Creepy Uncle Sam, alone in an empty hospital, makin’ it rain.
The Creepy Uncle Sam Web videos, sponsored by a conservative group called Generation Opportunity, launched in September. The initial spots featured young people showing up at the doctor’s office to use their newly purchased health insurance, only to be turned over to Creepy Uncle Sam for some sort of examination of their most private orifices.
Generation Opportunity also dispatched a human in a Creepy Uncle Sam getup to events that attracted a lot of young people. The idea was to encourage young adults to opt out of health insurance sold through Obamacare’s exchanges.
That didn’t work. More than 8 million people picked insurance plans through the law’s marketplaces, roughly 28 percent of whom were young adults—not the percentage the White House wanted, but about what insurance companies expected.
So now Creepy Uncle Sam has downgraded his complaint. The latest video, posted last week, shows him standing in an empty hospital, throwing money in the air like he just don’t care, because, the ad says, Obamacare is “making it rain on glitchy IT contractors.”
Source: Sam Baker for National Journal
6 Things You Should Know About Conservative Media Darling (And Possible 2016 GOP Candidate) Dr. Ben Carson
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson is trading on his medical reputation to ride a wave of media hype, but upon closer examination, many of his views are contradictory or emulate the uninformed chatter of a right-wing radio shock jock.
Carson rose to prominence in the conservative media last year for a speech attacking the Affordable Care Act at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama. After that, he was hired by Fox News, became a regular on the conservative speaking circuit, joined Newt Gingrich’s dubious political action committee, and launched an online magazine in coordination with the Washington Times (where he also writes an opinion column).
Carson has experienced increased media attention as The National Draft Ben Carson political action committee announced that it had brought in $2.4 million in donations in the first quarter of 2014. The Washington Post reports that the PAC, which operates independently of Carson, has spent an unusually high percentage of its income on fundraising.
Despite his newfound media spotlight, Carson has espoused extremist views on several issues, has used incendiary, decisive rhetoric to attack things he disagrees with, and has apparently inverted his view on health care in order to appeal to his new conservative constituency.
Carson Said Obamacare Was “Slavery, In A Way”
In a speech to the 2013 Values Voters’ Summit, Carson said that the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” and went on to describe the law as “slavery, in a way.”
Carson Said “Socialized Medicine Is The Keystone Of The Arch To The Socialist State”
In an appearance on Fox’s The Kelly File, Carson argued, “Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of socialism and communism, he said socialized medicine is the keystone of the arch to the socialist state. In other words, you’ve got to get the socialized medicine as the foundation because it gives you control of the people. Once you have control of them, you can do what you want.”
Carson Now Opposes Obamacare, Once Said “We Need To Get Rid Of For Profit Insurance Companies”
Carson’s record shows previous advocacy for greater government involvement in health care, which appears to contradict with what he now advocates.
He told Politico that “If you just go back and read the neo-Marxists, you’ll see why getting control of health care was so important to them.”
But in a 2009 interview with Mega Diversities, Carson said “the entire concept of for profits for the insurance companies makes absolutely no sense,” going on to argue that “the first thing we need to do is get rid of for profit insurance companies.”
Carson added, “We have a lack of policies and we need to make the government responsible for catastrophic health care. We have to make the insurance companies responsible only for routine health care.”
Carson Compared Marriage Equality Advocates To Pedophiles, Described Marriage Equality As “Extra Rights”
In his speech earlier this year to the conservative CPAC conference, Carson argued that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to “get extra rights” and that “they don’t get to redefine marriage.”
It was a continuation of his incendiary rhetoric on homosexuality.
In a 2013 appearance on Fox’s Hannity, Carson said, “Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition.”
After those comments, students and staff at Johns Hopkins Medical School criticized Carson, who was scheduled to be the commencement speaker for the class of 2013. He pushed back on these complaints by attacking white liberals as “the most racist people there are” because “they put you in a little category, a little box, ‘you have to think this way, how could you dare come off the plantation?’”
In his 2012 book, Carson said marriage equality “is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire.”
Carson Praised Vladimir Putin As He Attacked America
In a column Carson praised Russia’s Vladimir Putin for describing America as “godless,” saying “there may be some validity to his claim.”
Carson Questioned The Ethics Of People Who Support The Theory Of Evolution
Carson said people who believe in the scientific theory of evolution “might have more difficulty deriving where their ethics come from,” compared to “Those of us who believe in God and derive our sense of right and wrong and ethics from God’s word” who “have no difficulty whatsoever defining where our ethics come from.”
In an interview with an anti-evolution podcast, Carson claimed that “one of the most damning pieces of evidence against evolution is the human genome” because it contains “sophisticated coding mechanisms” which are proof of an intelligent designer in its creation.
The Republican National Committee sent a message to President Barack Obama Friday: the GOP is not moving on from Obamacare.
The Republicans’ message came in the form of a web video, posted one day after the president announced 8 million people had signed up for private health insurance using the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. During the announcement, Obama said it was time for Republicans “to move on to something else,” and chastised states that chose not to expand Medicaid “for no other reason than political spite” against him.
"You have 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states, zero cost to these states, other than ideological reasons, they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens," Obama said during a press conference Thursday. "That’s wrong. It should stop. Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else."
Republicans argued that “Americans don’t think it’s time to move on” in the video. Some prominent Republicans personally promised to keep up the fight against Obamacare, with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying “Republicans cannot and will not accept this law.” The office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also released a statement, according to NBC:
If the president is so confident in his numbers, there is no reason not to release transparent and complete enrollment data, and answer the questions, how many enrollees were previously uninsured and how many people had lost their previous plans due to Obamacare.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — who led the charge in 2013 to tie funding for Obamacare to a continuing resolution to the fund the government, a strategy that ultimately shut down the government for 16 days, cost $2 billion in lost productivity and made no changes to the health care law — tweeted the following after Obama’s remarks Thursday:
President Obama announced on Thursday that 8 million people have signed up for plans through Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges. Although March 31 was originally the final deadline to enroll in Obamacare, administration officials extended the open enrollment period until April 15 to accommodate the people who may have struggled to complete their applications due to technological issues.
Just over two weeks ago, the administration announced that Obamacare enrollment had reached 7.1 million — surpassing expectations after HealthCare.gov’s rocky rollout in October. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) originally projected seven million enrollments, and revised that figure down to six million after persistent website glitches plagued the exchange websites in the fall. But sign-ups picked up steam as the deadline neared. The 8 million figure includes 3.7 million sign-ups between March 1 and April 15.
“This thing is working,” Obama said.
The administration has not yet released more detailed data about the people who have signed up for new plans, so it’s unclear how many were previously uninsured and how many have paid their first premium. Even without further numbers from the White House, however, several recent outside reports suggest that the health reform law is on solid footing.
Polling from Gallup released this week found that Obamacare may be having an even bigger impact on the uninsurance rate than initially expected, suggesting that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since the fall. That places the uninsurance rate at its lowest point since 2008. According to Gallup’s estimations, about half of the Americans who have gained insurance for the first time this year say they got their coverage through Obamacare’s marketplaces. Other people gaining coverage could have gotten it through the expansion of the Medicaid program, or by signing up directly with an insurer.
And despite concerns that Obamacare wouldn’t be able to recover from HealthCare.gov’s disastrous rollout, several major insurers say they’re optimistic about the law, and eager to continue offering plans on the new marketplaces during the next open enrollment period. Insurance companies like UnitedHealth Group, Kaiser Permanente, Molina Healthcare, and Wellmark are interested in maintaining their presences on the state-level exchanges, and some are considering expanding, according to Politico.
Although there have been some ominous predictions that Obamacare will cause health insurance premiums to skyrocket, the statisticians working with insurers to project next year’s insurance premium rates report that there won’t be double digit hikes. While there will likely be variation in individual costs, officials from the Society of Actuaries expect mostly modest premium increases, saying “the double-rate increases we’ve been hearing are probably exaggerated.”
Some of the concerns over rising premiums stemmed from the assumption that there won’t be enough young and healthy people in the exchanges to balance out the older and sicker enrollees. But those fears may be unfounded. Obama announced on Thursday that 35 percent of enrollees are under the age of 35, and 28 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. Since previous estimates had skewed older, that indicates a rush of younger people signed up at the last minute. Those numbers fall in line with the experience that Massachusetts has when it enacted similar health care reforms in 2006. Young people gradually signed up over time, and by the end of the enrollment period, about 28 percent of Massachusetts enrollees were between the ages of 19 and 34.
However, not everyone is equally sharing in the gains under Obamacare’s coverage expansion. The president noted that, thanks to Republican governors’ continued resistance to the optional Medicaid expansion, an estimated 5.7 million low-income people will remain uninsured in 2016.
Cal Thomas Says Public Schools Are 'The Enemy's Re-Education Camps,' Evolution Will Kill Seniors And People With Disabilities | Right Wing Watch
After warning that marriage equality for gays and lesbians will destroy America, conservative columnist Cal Thomas told Daystar’s Marcus and Joni on Monday that public schools are instruments of “the enemy” and warned that Obamacare and the belief in evolution will lead to the deaths of senior citizens.
“Don’t put your children in the enemy’s re-education camps where they’re taught they evolved from slime and their nearest relative is down at the zoo and that’s why they like bananas on their cereal, and where they don’t learn the real history of America,” Thomas said before charging that the “government education system” is state-imposed Unitarianism that unfairly demonizes the Pilgrims as people who “hated the Indians and deprived them of their land.”
Later in the interview, Thomas said the theory of evolution will inevitably lead to the murder of “the elderly and then, soon after that, the handicapped, the unwanted, the mentally unfit and the rest” while Obamacare will establish death panels that will decide “who gets care” based in part on “how much you’re contributing to the tax base.”
“I spent a lot of time in the UK and I studied the NHS and I hear these horror stories. This is coming to America. You’re going to have — now Sarah Palin called them death panels, the left didn’t like that— but there will be bureaucrats deciding who gets care, who gets surgery and who doesn’t based on your age, the cost of the procedure and a lot of other factors, how much you’re contributing to the tax base,” he said.
“It’s coming and the reason it’s coming is we’ve devalued human life among the unborn. It will now be attacked at the other end of life among the elderly and then soon after that the handicapped, the unwanted, the mentally unfit and the rest because once you decide that we’re evolutionary accidents, we weren’t created in the image and likeness of an objectively existing God who endows us with a right to life, then all bets are off.”
Host Joni Lamb then asked Thomas and Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “Twenty years ago, could you have ever imagined that America would have deteriorated in its moral values to the degree that we have here in 2014?”
“No, I would never have thought that it was possible,” Reed responded.
But Thomas said that Jesus “foresaw everything that was to come,” including the apparent collapse of America.
From the 04.14.2014 edition of Daystar’s Marcus and Joni:
h/t: Brian Tashman at RWW
The two programs are now a staple of American political culture. But a backward glance at the political environment during their inception reveals equally fierce, ugly antipathy from conservatives — including screaming warnings that they’d be ruinous to freedom.
During the 1935 debate over Social Security, Republicans likened it to slavery and dictatorship.
"Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people," said Rep. John Taber (R-NY).
"The lash of the dictator will be felt," said Rep. Daniel Reed (R-NY), "and 25 million free American citizens will for the first time submit themselves to a fingerprint test."
Rep. James W. Wadsworth (R-NY) cautioned that passage of Social Security would open the door to a government power “so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity of our institutions and to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.”
Three decades later, when Medicare was first conceived in the early 1960s, the public was deeply divided, and similar warnings were voiced. Embodying the conservative movement’s sentiments at the time was Ronald Reagan, who taped a recording on behalf of the American Medical Association warning that the program would, quite simply, lead to the destruction of freedom.
"If Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining," Reagan said. If opponents failed to scuttle it, he warned, "One of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, in 1964, likened Medicare to free vacations and beer. “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind,” he said, “why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?”
Half a century later, Republicans loudly and proudly proclaim their support for both programs, and are loathe to admit their party ever opposed them.
But history repeats itself. In 2010, Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act — the largest expansion of the safety net since Medicare — following a similarly intense debate. Democrats heralded it as a step toward a more humane society, and Republican opponents warned it would pose a grave threat to economic freedom. Unlikely Social Security and Medicare, Obamacare failed to win over even a fraction of Republicans, who were reduced a small, deeply ideological rump in both chambers of Congress after two landslide elections for Democrats.
This week, Obamacare took a leap toward sustainability as it crossed the milestone of 7 million insurance sign-ups. Even as conservative wonks concede that the program is probably here to stay, the residue from the hyper-partisan and polarizing debate lingers, and Republicans remain committed to dismantling it. But if past is prologue, over time as the coverage expansion and benefits fully take effect, the fatalistic warnings will fizzle and Republicans will come to terms with the new health care program.
"In politics, losses always worry people more than abstract future gains entice them. Now, every vote to repeal or eviscerate Obamacare risks offending millions – and the potential to arouse pushback will only grow," argued Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor, sociologist and liberal author. “This story isn’t like Social Security, where most potential beneficiaries saw few gains for two decades. Affordable Care is already a massive presence in U.S. health care. It cannot be rolled back and those who keep championing that Lost Cause will do so at rising political peril.”
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
Wow: Fox News actually issued a correction for its misleading chart from yesterday—and comes up with a way less alarming chart about Obamacare. http://mm4a.org/1i9UMcg
Two government officials confirmed the milestone, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter ahead of an official announcement.
Seven million was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office for enrollment in taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance through new online markets created under Obama’s signature legislation.
That was scaled back to 6 million after the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov last fall. Several state-run websites also had crippling problems.
Americans who rushed to apply for health insurance Monday faced long, frustrating waits and a new spate of website ills on deadline day.
"This is like trying to find a parking spot at Wal-Mart on Dec. 23," said Jason Stevenson, working with a Utah nonprofit group helping people enroll.
At times, more than 125,000 people were simultaneously using HealthCare.gov, straining it beyond its capacity. For long stretches Monday, applicants were shuttled to a virtual waiting room where they could leave an email address and be contacted later.
Officials said the site had not crashed but was experiencing very heavy volume. The website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 2 million through 3 p.m. EDT. Call centers have more than 840,000 calls.
Supporters of the health care law fanned out across the country in a final dash to sign up uninsured Americans. People not signed up for health insurance by the deadline, either through their jobs or on their own, were subject to being fined by the IRS, and that threat was helping drive the final dash.
The administration announced last week that people still in line by midnight would get extra time to enroll.
The website stumbled early in the day — out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. Another hiccup in early afternoon temporarily kept new applicants from signing up, and then things slowed further. Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers say it still runs slowly.
At Chicago’s Norwegian American Hospital, people began lining up shortly after 7 a.m. to get help signing up for subsidized private health insurance.
Lucy Martinez, an unemployed single mother of two boys, said she’d previously tried to enroll at a clinic in another part of the city but there was always a problem. She’d wait and wait and they wouldn’t call her name, or they would ask her for paperwork that she was told earlier she didn’t need, she said. Her diabetic mother would start sweating so they’d have to leave.
She’s heard “that this would be better here,” said Martinez, adding that her mother successfully signed up Sunday at a different location.
At St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del., enrollment counselor Hubert Worthen plunged into a long day. “I got my energy drink,” he said. “This is epic, man.”
At a Houston community center, there were immigrants from Ethiopia, Nepal, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other conflict-torn areas, many of them trying anew after failing to complete applications previously. In addition to needing help with the actual enrollment, they needed to wait for interpreters. Many had taken a day off from work, hoping to meet the deadline.
The White House and other supporters of the law were hoping for an enrollment surge that would confound skeptics.
The insurance markets — or exchanges — offer subsidized private health insurance to people who don’t have access to coverage through their jobs. The federal government is taking the lead in 36 states, while 14 other states plus Washington, D.C., are running their own enrollment websites.
New York, running its own site, reported more than 812,000 had signed up by Sunday morning, nearly 100,000 of them last week.
However, it’s unclear what those numbers may mean.
The administration hasn’t said how many of the 6 million people nationally who had signed up before the weekend ultimately closed the deal by paying their first month’s premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured — the real test of Obama’s health care overhaul. In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.
Cheering on the deadline-day sign-up effort, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius planned to spend much of the day Monday working out of the department’s TV studio, conducting interviews by satellite with stations around the country.
Though March 31 was the last day officially to sign up, millions of people are potentially eligible for extensions granted by the administration.
Those include people who had begun enrolling by the deadline but didn’t finish, perhaps because of errors, missing information or website glitches. The government says it will accept paper applications until April 7 and take as much time as necessary to handle unfinished cases on HealthCare.gov. Rules may vary in states running their own insurance marketplaces.
The administration is also offering special extensions to make up for all sorts of problems that might have kept people from getting enrolled on time: Natural disasters. Domestic abuse. Website malfunctions. Errors by insurance companies. Mistakes by application counselors.
To seek a special enrollment period, contact the federal call center, at 1-855-889-4325, or the state marketplace and explain what happened. It’s on the honor system. If the extension is approved, that brings another 60 days to enroll.
Those who still don’t get health insurance run the risk that the Internal Revenue Service will fine them next year for remaining uninsured. It remains to be seen how aggressively the penalties called for in the law are enforced.
Also, the new markets don’t have a monopoly on health insurance. People not already covered by an employer or a government program can comply with the insurance mandate by buying a policy directly from an insurer. They’ll just have to pay the full premium themselves, although in a few states there may be an exception to that rule as well.
Supporters of the law held their breath early Monday when the website was taken down.
In Oakton, Va., enrollment counselor Rachel Klein said she noticed the website was running slowly.
"We all came into it understanding that today was going to be challenging," said Klein. "We’re all relieved that there’s going to be a little extra time for people."
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Monday that Republicans remain committed to repealing Obama’s law.
With a last-minute enrollment surge before the impending deadline, the Obama administration has hit its target.
On Thursday, President Obama announced on a call with volunteers that the number of Americans who have enrolled in health insurance plans under Obamacare has hit six million.
With several days left to go before open enrollment ends on March 31, the administration has met its target. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that Obamacare enrollment would hit six million by the end of its enrollment period. Although the CBO initially projected a seven million enrollment figure, that number was revised down after technological issues plagued the insurance marketplaces’ websites this past fall.
Just ten days ago, the Obama administration announced that enrollments had hit five million— meaning that the pace of enrollment has significantly picked up recently, and a million Americans enrolled in less than two weeks. The White House has always anticipated a last-minute surge in enrollment, since previous efforts to enroll Americans in government-run health care programs have demonstrated that people typically wait until the last minute to sign up.
Obamacare enrollment is frequently compared to the Bush administration’s effort to enroll seniors in Medicare Part D. That prescription drug program, widely considered to be asuccess now that it’s fully implemented, also struggled with initial website glitches. Medicare Part D ended up falling slightly short of its CBO projection, hitting 70 percent of that goal by the end of its enrollment period.
Although open enrollment technically ends in four days, there will be a few more weeks for some Americans to sign up. On Wednesday, the administration announced that the people who have experienced technological difficulties will be allowed to complete their enrollment in April.
Last month, when the latest Obamacare horror story turned out to be largely invented out of whole cloth, I speculated about what this means. “I’m a diehard defender of Obamacare,” I said, ”and even I concede that there ought to be at least hundreds of thousands of people who are truly worse off than they were with their old plans. But if that’s the case, why is it that every single hard luck story like this falls apart under the barest scrutiny?” Maybe it means that Obamacare isn’t actually hurting very many people at all.
But this question can be turned around. There ought to be lots of people who have been helped by Obamacare too. So why haven’t the airwaves been blanketed with their stories? Dave Weigel says the answer here is simpler: yes, there are plenty of feel-good Obamacarestories. But Democratic campaigns have neither the money nor, apparently, the desireto use them:
Take Families USA, the decades-old health care awareness organization, which regularly connects journalists to sources. Last October, Families USA received $1 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to finance more reporting, more vetting, more sharing of stories. That money helped Families USA expand its team of full-time vetters from one to three. It has not, so far, helped any Democrats running terrified from Obamacare.
“We do not pass along stories to political campaigns,” says Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA. “When reporters are doing stories, we pass on leads—that’s what we call them—if the individuals consent. But we do not ever send stories to political campaigns.”
….“There simply is no liberal Koch operation,” complains Paul Begala, a former Clintonite and a strategist for Priorities USA in 2012. “Rather than a national ad campaign, which is not realistic, Dems should look to smart 2014 candidates to engage this issue along [these] lines. Once someone does it, and it works, others will replicate in their states/districts. Do I think Dems should respond to the Koch ads? Absolutely. But it is going to be a piecemeal response.”
So Families USA can’t or won’t help candidates, and the candidates themselves don’t have the money to compete. And even if they did, their fear of Obamacare is so palpable that they’re probably afraid to campaign positively on it anyway. This is, needless to say, a self-fulfilling prophecy: Republicans make Obamacare toxic with misleading ads; Democrats are afraid to fight back because they don’t want to be tainted by Obamacare; and this leaves the field wide open to making Obamacare even more toxic.
Democrats are going to be in a world of hurt this year if they keep this up. There’s no running from Obamacare. There just isn’t. If they want to win, they’d better emerge from their fetal crouch and start fighting back. Nobody likes candidates who won’t stand up and defend their own party’s achievements.
This is so right on, Mother Jones!!