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No, Mr. Jenkins, I'm not rooting for Obamacare to fail

September 25, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Whose interests was Sen. Ted Cruz representing during his anti-Obamacare speech?
Whose interests was Sen. Ted Cruz representing during his anti-Obamacare… (Jim Watson/Getty Images )

The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, in the course of a fairly conventional conservative's screed against the Affordable Care Act published on Wednesday, made one eye-opening assertion I've never seen anywhere else.

He claimed that I'm "rooting for the Affordable Care Act to be a train wreck."

Jenkins drew this impression from my recent column observing that there will be glitches in the rollout of Obamacare's insurance exchanges that begins next week,  that most of the glitches can be traced to the decision in 2010 to build healthcare reform around the health insurance industry's franchise, and that the obvious answer is for the U.S. to move to a single-payer system.

I stand by all those observations. But they hardly mean that I'm "rooting" for Obamacare to fail. On the contrary, I hope it will succeed and I'm sure it will succeed. Earlier Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that insurance exchange premiums across the nation -- those are for the policies covering people without access to insurance from their employers -- will average 16% less than the projections produced earlier by the Congressional Budget Office. The HHS found that "states with the lowest premiums have more than twice the number of insurance companies offering plans than states with the highest premiums."

In other words, the free market is working, better even than anyone expected. Jenkins, who wears his devotion to free enterprise and market economics like a medal, should be pleased.

But the fact is that no one expected the Affordable Care Act to be perfect. It's the product of compromises, many of them demanded by Republicans and big business. The biggest compromise was leaving the private insurers in place. There's a big difference between acknowledging the obvious reality that the ACA isn't as effective as it could have been, and rooting for it to be a "train wreck."

The only people in this debate who really are rooting for Obamacare to fail are conservatives who have decided to make an ideological crusade out of denying millions of Americans accesss to health coverage.

Where they can, they've taken every step possible to make their rooting goal a reality. Some Republican governors have refused the expansion of Medicaid in their states, even though that provision of the ACA would provide coverage for millions of people. House Republicans have harassed the "navigator" organizations tasked with helping people use Obamacare as it's designed; Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida  pitched a fit over the government's plans to spend money educating the public about how to make use of this landmark program.

I'm certainly not the first person to observe that Republicans are mounting a full-scale assault on Obamacare's rollout, not because they think it will fail, but because they fear it will be a success. That's a reasonable fear. Because once Americans recognize by personal experience how much better life is when their insurance company can't drop them because they got sick, can't refuse them because they have even a minor pre-existing condition, can't profiteer off their health by cheaping out on services, they'll wonder why the Republican Party and its conservative commentariat went to such lengths to deny them those benefits of life in a civilized society. And they'll start wondering whose interest the Republican Party really represents.


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