It's been an eventful month for the Affordable Care Act. On July 2, the Obama administration announced that it would postpone the employer mandate -- the law's stipulation that businesses with more than 50 full-time workers provide health insurance or pay fines -- until 2015. Republicans rejoiced across the country, storming the media and using this delay as evidence of the law's hopelessness. Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said that the decision demonstrated the "unaffordable, unworkable, and unpopular" nature of the law, while Speaker of the House John Boehner vowed to expand the delay to individuals and small businesses. The Wall Street Journal bluntly called the law "a fiasco for the ages." For the GOP, celebrations were in order.
However, soon after this party started, our public conversation took a decidedly different turn. Officials in New York State revealed last week that insurance premiums under the law would be 50 percent lower in 2014 than in the year before. The White House jumped on these findings and pointed out that, across 11 states that have posted premium rates for the next year, prices will be nearly 20 percent lower under the Affordable Care Act. President Obama gloated that "consumers are getting a hint of how much money they're going to save because of this law." New York Governor Andrew Cuomo touted the market competition driven by the law's insurance exchanges. This time, it was the Democrats celebrating at home and on television.
In the middle of all of this, a flurry of other news came to light. One study found that delaying the individual mandate would greatly increase the number of uninsured Americans, while another concluded that the law would encourage low-income workers to quit their jobs. Early reports on the Pioneer ACO model -- an experimental payment program under the law that seeks to lower costs and improve patient outcomes--showed mixed results. The number of states refusing the law's Medicaid expansion grew to 21, and Walgreens joined Blue Cross Blue Shield to promote the law's implementation.
With so much mixed information, does anyone really know what's going on?
What the past several weeks have shown is that everyone can find something for which to cheer, or jeer, Obamacare. While the passage of the Affordable Care Act rocked our country and brought new meaning to the phrase "political polarization", the implementation of the law will maintain the controversy for years to come. In its 906 pages and more than 5-year timeline, the law has hundreds of provisions that range from the minute, such as changes to adoption tax credits, to the monumental, such as the individual mandate. The size and complexity of this legislation suggests that we face a deluge of reports, data, and preliminary findings, all of which will be spun to promote the causes of relevant parties.
For the average voter, sorting through this mess can be an impossible task. Still, in the next year, the majority of the law goes into effect and, with the 2014 midterm elections on the horizon, this partisan cherry picking will soon kick into overdrive. Political pundits have already accused Obama of delaying the employer mandate for political gain in the upcoming races. Democratic strategists are coaching their candidates to embrace the law, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that Obamacare would be the number one issue at the polls. We're certainly in for a bumpy ride.
As we begin to vet our candidates and consider their positions on the issues, it would be wise to remember that no one has a definitive claim on the truth of this law's future. One day, the law will have raised costs and hurt job growth. The next, it will have lowered insurance premiums and improved patient care. These fleeting victories have thus far served only to reinforce our endless stalemate, in which this law is viewed simultaneously as a crowning achievement and a terrible crime.
Instead of continuing this political posturing, our leaders should use these sporadic findings to strengthen the parts of the law that work and to fix the parts that don't. Otherwise, we are just doubling down on our positions as affordable, quality health care escapes our grasp. A nuanced law requires a nuanced approach. Anyone who says otherwise is simply lying to get your vote.