When even the reliably liberal comics on “Saturday Night Live” mercilessly skewer the dysfunctional Obamacare website, as they did this week, you know the political landscape has shifted. And the spectacle might be as funny as SNL's skit lampooning clueless Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were the underlying issues not so potentially devastating.
In time, perhaps, the amateurishly designed web site will be fixed. But that will be of little comfort to Americans – including an estimated 500,000 in California alone – who risk losing coverage President Obama famously promised they could keep.
"What I have right now is what I'm happy with, and I just want to know why I can't keep what I have,” a 56-year-old woman told CBS news, aghast that she and at least 300,000 other Floridians could lose coverage because their insurance plans did not include the 10 “essential” benefits required by the policy. She will be able to get a new policy, but at a cost 10 times higher than the $54 per month she now pays. The cost of coverage must also compensate for the law's limits on out-of-pocket expenses.
Mitt Romney was excoriated during last year's presidential election for suggesting that Republican efforts to cut taxes and curb the welfare state would have little appeal to the nearly half of Americans who pay no federal income tax. And, in fact, a recent CBS analysis of Obamacare insurance exchanges in 15 states found that more people are enrolling in government-subsidized Medicaid than are buying private coverage. For them and others, Obamacare may indeed prove to be an improvement.
But much of the backlash has been due to an economic reality that should have been expected – but, in some cases, clearly was not.
“Of course, I want people to have health care,” said retired teacher Cindy Vinson of San Jose, Calif., told the Mercury News. “I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.” And she will pay — $1,800 more per year for her individual policy – because she earns too much to receive a tax credit.
But there really is no such thing as a free lunch – or free health insurance. Who did Vinson think was going to pay for all that additional coverage? Poor people?
But funding has been undermined by the law itself. The fines for non-enrollment, $95 for an individual or 1 percent of family income in the first year, are likely to be lower than the cost of coverage. And it turns out the IRS can't collect them anyway, except by withholding the amount from tax refunds not everyone receives.
And Obamacare's Holy Grail – the enrollment of healthy young people who consume little care — is contradicted by its coverage of pre-existing conditions and the provision allowing children to remain on their parents' insurance plan until age 26.
Could that be one reason a recent study found that 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working?
The Obama administration is now faced with a no-win choice. It can push through the obviously flawed individual mandate despite its earlier and possibly illegal decision to delay the employer mandate for a year. Or it can listen to jittery congressional Democrats facing re-election next year, thereby acknowledging Republicans' demand for a delay was right all along.
Of course, Republicans – who temporarily kept Obamacare's flaws off the front page by linking it to their deficit-reduction demands despite lacking the votes to prevail – would probably screw that up, too. It's not out of the question that some who two weeks ago were demanding a delay will now insist the law take effect by next March as planned, in plenty of time for the November elections. Brazen hypocrisy, after all, is a bipartisan sport.
And because it is, Obama adviser David Axelrod is now able to promise that “most” Americans will be able to keep their coverage under Obamacare without any hint of retreat, regret or shame.