If you listen carefully in Washington, you can hear the tiny whooshing sound that dice make when they are up in the air. The difference is that when politicians throw them you hear a lot more bluster and babbling.
Sen Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is up for re-election in 2014, and he knows just how the next 18 months are going to go for his re-election plans. It’s a steady diet of scandals and a call to repeal “Obamacare”. He told the Washington Post, “I was in favor of repealing Obamacare long before the IRS scandal,” he said. “It’s the single worst piece of legislation in a long time.” McConnell added that the health-care law “has an overwhelming likelihood of being the most important issue of fall of 2014 campaign.”
We’ve already discussed how ridiculous the scandal-mongering is, but what if Obamacare actually works? That’s not an idle question, either, because there is considerable evidence that it will work – for very conservative, Republican reasons. And at least one key Republican has admitted as much.
Even though it’s not going to be implemented until January, the bids from major insurance carriers are coming in under the Affordable Care Act. Everyone has been watching California, the largest pool and the place where the tab was likely to be the most outrageous. The result? Big insurers like Kaiser Permanente were more interested in not being left out and bid low. Way low. The “Silver” or medium level plan that was originally forecast to go for $5,200 per year came in at $3,312 ($276 per month) – 36% lower. And that’s before any subsidies that poor people may qualify for. The “Bronze” or basic plan is only $2,064 ($172 per month). That’s against a typical $5,500 that employers are charged today for coverage somewhere in between the two.
Why so low? Because, for the first time, real competition and transparency is coming to health care. The present “system” has almost no features of a free market in that information on cost and quality are simply not available – and the tab is usually paid by a third party (the employer). Obamacare works precisely because of the free market forces that are built into it – the stuff that Republicans Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole were enthusiastic about when they proposed a similar system in the 1990s, and the very thing implemented by Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts.
Oregon is the best example. There, one insurer came in with a monthly premium of $169 per month (Silver), while other insurers asked to charge more than $400. But then, seeing how far off they were, two insurers came back to the state’s regulators and asked if they could refile at lower rates so they could be competitive.
That’s why Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) has not only backed Obamacare, she refuses to sign a single bill until the balking legislature passes Obamacare. She’s made good on that promise, vetoing 5 routine bills as the session winds down. Where she was once a Tea Party favorite, Brewer understands what a good deal this is. It’s a deal she can’t let pas Arizona by and claim to have done her job.
So why is the politics still so dicey? Why did the US House vote 37 times to repeal this extremely good idea? In the interest of fairness, it’s still a big experiment. We can’t be sure exactly how it will work when it’s implemented, and there are sure to be some big kinks. But in terms of controlling the insane rise in health care costs, Obamacare is a huge win – and a win based on the amazing power of market forces used by informed consumers.
That does not in any way answer the question as to why the politics of Obamacare is still so defining, or indeed why anyone would stake their career on its failure. More to the point, it’s an entire political party that is making this bet –and doubling down, as they often do when they are shown to be wrong.
This is indeed going to be the defining issue of 2014, but probably not for the reasons Sen. McConnell thinks. Obamacare will be a win – the only issue is how big. Democrats will run on that success, and smart Republicans would be wise to make like Brewer – put down the dice and walk away. This game is over.
By 2014 there will only be one question to ask those who oppose this program – are you stupid, crazy or bought? If the Democrats can muster the guts to be aggressive enough to ask this it will be a long time before Republicans can muster a majority again. Obamacare? It’s that good, and looking better all the time.