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Andy Ostroy Headshot

Obama's ACA Problem in a Nutshell

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Imagine you're sitting at New York's JFK airport waiting for a flight. An announcement comes over the PA system that the local air-traffic control system is down and will be shut for days. Your flight has been canceled, as have thousands of flights in and out of New York. This system failure causes tremendous anger, frustration and inconvenience. As such, there's an immediate campaign by special interest groups (Amtrak, for example) to indefinitely delay U.S. air travel or even stop flying altogether. They claim that flying is no longer safe. That it's destroying America's transportation system, and perhaps even America itself. Well, this irrational scenario is exactly what's playing out with President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

A colossal glitch in the Healthcare.gov website has undermined the the October 1 roll-out, causing major embarrassment for the president over his signature health care law. Couple that with a provision in the law itself that's likely to result in millions of individually insured Americans (approximately 5% of total insureds) receiving cancellation notices from their providers--despite Obama's repeated, unequivocal promise that "if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance, period, no matter what,"--along with microscopic enrollment to-date, and you have the humiliating debacle of the past six weeks.

To be sure, the launch of ACA has been an utter public relations nightmare for Obama, who valiantly fought for years for its passage through Congress, its Supreme Court ratification, and its re-affirmation in the 2012 election. But make no mistake, there's no one to blame for ACA's current problems but Obama. From the start he failed miserably to successfully sell it to the American public, which is why a majority say they disapprove of it despite the overwhelming benefits they'll receive. He's allowed Republicans to frame the debate, portraying the law in the most negative light imaginable with incendiary partisan rhetoric. While Americans, the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the problems, it took weeks for Obama to issue an apology, but it was too little too late. The genie was already out of the bottle and it's hard to imagine how he can get it back in given that a majority of Americans now question his honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama's disapproval rating at 54%, matching the highs of former President George Bush.

And now six weeks after the roll-out several leading Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Bill Clinton, are calling for a fix. Clinton this week urged Obama to "honor his commitment" by amending ACA to allow people to keep their health plans. The chorus of disenchantment is growing bigger and louder with each passing day.

But before we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water we must keep perspective and not let these relatively minor, fixable flaws overshadow the overall value of ACA, a law that's designed to benefit and protect 95% of Americans. In no way should we mitigate or lessen the short-term challenges and hardships faced by millions of Americans who have received insurance cancellations. But understanding ACA in its greater context is critical in the long-term. Like Social Security, Medicare and Bush's prescription drug plan, ACA will surely experience some birthing problems and growing pains, but over time Republicans will be proven dead wrong about its ability to provide expanded, improved and affordable health care for tens of millions of people currently without coverage, as well as enhance the coverage of those presently insured. It's just a shame that Obama has allowed and enabled right-wing obstructionists, whose only goal is to kill their hated "Obamacare" and replace it with nothing, to create the narrative of total failure.