The shutdown ended and the shutout began, leaving Americans with no one to be angry with for virtually twenty-four hours before glitches in the Affordable Care Act website left them unable to apply for the health insurance many of them had been waiting their entire lives to even be eligible for. This handed Republicans more fuel for the fire they had started weeks earlier, closing the government in an attempt to smoke Obamacare out of Capitol Hill for good.
The problematic rollout of the Affordable Care Act website, while anticlimactic, has been nothing more than an unexpected inconvenience, exaggerated by those searching for reasons to discredit the new health care system as a whole. The government predicts the website will be up and running by the end of November, hopefully restoring the administration’s allegedly damaged credibility and laying this frustration to rest once and for all.
Perhaps the most upsetting part about the website’s unglamorous debut, however, has been how quickly it has caused Americans to lose sight of the bigger picture; if anything, it is the nation’s shortsightedness and utter lack of perspective—not a few software bugs in an inaugural online insurance exchange—that will result in the downfall of Obamacare.
Nothing represents such myopia quite like the Republican Party, which has been quick to conclude that the botched website must be indicative of the defectiveness of Obamacare as a whole; anyone with an iota of common sense, however, would recognize that this is a logical fallacy.
Contrary to what the GOP would lead you to believe, the website for the program has nothing to do with the actual healthcare program. The program itself aims to extend health care to the 51 million Americans without it, subsidizing the insurance costs of low-income applicants and prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions. Because the program itself mandates that every U.S. citizen become insured by 2016, the website was designed merely as a tool to facilitate this process, giving people easy-to-compare choices of health care coverage in the hopes of lessening the blow of the individual mandate.
Healthcare.gov is one of the biggest IT projects ever initiated by the federal government. When the first set of federal rules for the Affordable Care Act was released to the public, director of exchange technology at Leavitt Partners, Dan Schuyler is a main consultant on the development of the marketplaces and said in a statement to Politico that “Three and a half years is not enough time to do this.” (Politico, “Understanding Obamacare,” 9.27.13)
Moreover, it is a project that the government has had to carry out largely on its own, as only sixteen states and the District of Columbia have chosen to operate and oversee their own insurance marketplaces; seven more are sharing the work with the federal government. The rest of the states—predominantly red—have chosen to sit out, leaving the feds to manage the unveiling of a brand new health care system without any help from more than half of the states in the union. In a report for Time Magazine, Kate Pickert confirmed that “Twenty-seven states declined to set up exchanges or cooperate with the federal government to run them. And many are finding other ways to prevent the law from working as it had intended to.” (Time, ‘The Unfulfilled Promise of Obamacare,” 10.14.13)
A more accurate generalization, then, would be to say that the botched website is indicative of the defectiveness not of Obamacare, but of the Republican Party and its go-to political strategy of taking the federal government hostage for ransom—in this case, refusing to participate in the rollout of the new program in the hopes that the feds will be overwhelmed and Obamacare will implode.
And yet, in the spirit of hypocrisy that seems to be embodied by the GOP these days, Republicans have been the first to feign ¨shock and sadness¨ that more Americans will not be able to access this program due to its disastrous online rollout. After four years of whining about the Affordable Care Act, offering no alternative in its place, Republicans are suddenly concerned about the health of their constituents. One congressman, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) shouted down from atop his high horse that, “This lie is way beyond an awful computer program. This lie affects the health and well-being of every American.” (CNN, “What We Learned–and Didn’t–from Obamacare Website Hearing,” 10.24.13)
Others have, unsurprisingly, resorted to fear mongering: “The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle and the American people are now fearful of their healthcare,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Majority Leader. “I mean, they’re downright scared about what’s going to happen with their healthcare next year.” (LA Times, “Democrats Disturbed by Obamacare Rollout—and GOP Criticism,” 10.23.13)
To say that the Republicans have made a mountain out of a molehill would be an understatement. They have made Mount Everest out of a grassy knoll, and they expect Americans to climb it with them.
The good news, thus far, is that we have largely refused to make this ascent and lose our grounding. So far 700,000 Americans have signed up for insurance through the website, and the numbers are continuing to grow. Meanwhile, members of Congress never have, and never will, experience life in the United States without health insurance—so why let them speak for us?
Instead of these individuals speaking for us, let the newly insured Americans speak. After a lifetime of being denied access to doctors and medical care for being either too sick or too poor, many of these Americans will assure you themselves that the Affordable Care Act is well worth the wait.
—Natasha Bertrand is a political science & philosophy double major.