The Obama administration announced this week that more than 5 million Americans are now enrolled and receiving health insurance under the president’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare.” Since March 1, approximately 800,000 people have gone on online to choose a health care plan under Obamacare.
Even though that number is short of the administration’s goal of 7 million registered by the end of March, it is a significant achievement given the problems that have plagued the health care reform measure that the president signed nearly four years ago. After successive lawsuits, efforts by Republicans to “repeal and replace,” and the administration’s flawed roll-out last fall, many people thought the plan ultimately would not succeed.
Yet it is time to recognize that Obamacare is succeeding. Millions of Americans are receiving health care for less than they did before. At the same time, those who already had health insurance are receiving more coverage for their insurance dollar. This includes coverage for maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs and mental health services.
Many people are able to receive coverage for the first time. A consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., reported that 27 percent of enrollees in Obamacare are receiving health care insurance for the first time. And those who already have health insurance cannot be dropped by their insurance company because they get sick, nor can they be denied coverage by a new insurance company because they have a pre-existing condition.
Additionally, Medicaid is becoming a broader tool for serving health care needs. So far, more than half of all states are expanding Medicaid access, thus assuring that more people can receive health insurance through Medicaid. Even states with Republican governors initially opposed to Obamacare, such as Nevada, Arizona and Iowa, have expanded Medicaid.
All of this has occurred despite the rocky start last fall of the website roll-out. It was feared then that those problems would not be resolved quickly enough and the implementation of the insurance marketplaces would have to be delayed. (Fortunately, the bugs were worked out and millions of Americans have used the new system to acquire health insurance.) Or that many Americans would opt for the fine ($95 per year or 1 percent of their income, whichever was higher) rather than enroll in Obamacare. With the administration reaching over two-thirds of its goal, a widespread unwillingness to enroll seems like a threat that never really materialized.
Another fear is that young people would not enroll. The White House is making a major push to reach young Americans who are critical to the new law’s success. Since young Americans are less likely to need health care delivery, they are instrumental in providing the financial support for an industry that now must cover many older Americans who do need health care.
President Obama’s unprecedented appearance on the comedy show “Between Two Ferns” to do a comedy sketch with host Zach Galifianakis was one element of the White House’s outreach. The White House also is airing ads on sports channels in conjunction with March Madness and supporting groups that are doing door to door canvassing and distributing fliers in public areas such as malls and concerts.
That effort is making progress. The White House said that visits to healthcare.gov were up 40 percent following the president’s appearance on the comedy show. And the average age of enrollees has fallen from 43 a few weeks ago to 35 today.
Rather than becoming the abject failure that critics predicted, the program has successfully incorporated millions of Americans into the insurance marketplaces that are providing more and better health care coverage.
Regardless of one’s feelings about Obamacare, the administration deserves credit for bringing so many Americans into a new health care program that will have an enormous, positive impact on many Americans who previously lacked affordable, adequate health care coverage.
Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU.