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Beam: What’s the future for Obamacare?

Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2013 4:27 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Is it too late to save Obamacare? It’s too early to tell, but the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act website, the canceling of insurance policies that Americans liked and higher health care costs may be too much to overcome.

Obamacare’s problems have become a bonanza for the media. And when conservatives start saying the liberal media they detest is beginning to report the shortcomings, you know President Obama’s signature accomplishment of the last five years is in real trouble.

The website was supposed to be in better working order Saturday, but the Department of Health and Human Services told Americans not to expect a perfect operation. We won’t know how well it’s working until hundreds of thousands try to sign up once again.

National Journal, one of Washington’s most respected political news magazines, has covered Obamacare with daily reports from some of this country’s best newsmen and women. Their coverage, as Fox News likes to say, has been fair and balanced.

James Oliphant wrote a Journal article titled, “Love it or hate it, Obamacare redistributes Americans’ wealth.” He notes that Obama said a lot of positive things about his health care plan that “stacked up like planes on an airport runway during a holiday weekend.”

After problems continued, Oliphant said, “… The curtain has been yanked back to expose the ungainly reality that lies at the very heart of the program: Very simply, under the Affordable Care Act, there are winners and there are losers. And there were always going to be. That fact, even more than the star-crossed rollout, may be the more enduring threat to Obamacare.”

We hear supporters of Obamacare say the program is no different from other social programs where those who are working, and can afford to, support those who aren’t. They often use Social Security and Medicare as examples.

Oliphant said there is one major difference: Under those programs almost every taxpayer eventually becomes a winner, but under ACA that may never happen.

Obamacare had major obstacles from the start. It had no support from Republicans in Congress. The program wasn’t fully prepared to set up insurance exchanges for 36 states, which declined the offer to set up their own. States that set up their own exchanges have been successful. The president also made promises he couldn’t keep, and that has hurt his credibility.

“Hardly a day goes by that a new poll isn’t released showing President Obama with the lowest job-approval rating of his presidency,” Charlie Cook said in his National Journal column.

Cook said Democrats don’t like Obama’s health care problems to be compared to the credibility problem former President George W. Bush had after his handling of Hurricane Katrina.

“… Of course, there are big differences between the two presidential stumbles, but similarly, in each case, public confidence in that president was seriously eroded, and questions about the administrations’ core competence and honesty became highly prevalent,” Cook said.

Cook said Obama didn’t fare well when those who were polled asked whether he “inspires confidence” and “can manage the government effectively.” He also got poor marks in “is honest” and “is a strong and decisive leader.”

Only time will tell whether the president can overcome this credibility problem, Cook said. However, he added that “Bush and his colleagues hoped and prayed that Katrina would be forgotten or forgiven – neither of which happened…”

Oliphant, in another National Journal article, said Democrats keep saying the political climate will improve. “But there are plenty of reasons to believe that Obama won’t recover to any great degree – reasons beyond history, which has shown that once presidents tumble to this level, they rarely, if ever, return to their previous heights,” he said.

He added later, “… Among the politically active, the damage is done, and no amount of rebranding or reselling is going to change their perception of the product – nor likely, the president.”

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal said Democrats like U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who are running for re-election in 2014, are being told to talk about the promised benefits of Obamacare, to offer constructive criticism and to hope their constituents are patient.

That is a tall order, but Landrieu and others are doing their best to follow the scenario. Landrieu, for example, is sponsoring a bill designed to let people keep those health insurance policies that were being canceled.

How far that bill and others like it get depends on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and he is being coy about the possible outcome.

“While red-state Democrats who talk about those bills – and score political points proposing them – have Reid’s blessing, actually voting on them does not,” according to Shane Goldmacher and Michael Catalini of National Journal. “None of the measures are currently scheduled for floor time. Reid is keeping them at bay until at least December.”

Self-survival is a strong motivation, particularly among politicians. And the president has put many of his Democratic colleagues in a tight spot from which they want desperately to emerge. They know polls have shown a solid majority opposes Obamacare.

We may have a better idea of where Obamacare is headed over the next few weeks. However, its future looks awfully grim at the moment. Many have said there has to be a better way to provide health care for those who can’t afford it.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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