Rhetoric can be repealed.

Obamacare Is Here to Stay

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Affordable Care Act continues not to implode. In year two of the exchanges, more insurance companies are lining up to participate, which means more competition, lower prices and less waste. As Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohnnote today, that's exactly what the law promised.

This follows earlier rounds of good news on Medicare costs and insurance premiums on the exchanges. In addition, although some people quit the exchanges due to churn in the insurance market, 7.3 million customers (of 8.1 million who signed up) stayed, paying their premiums as required. In other words, Obamacare is basically working as planned.

As Klein pointed out, the good news isn't going to influence those who want to pretend Obamacare is a failure. In part that's because the "Affordable Care Act is a huge law, and at any given moment, there are some good things happening in it and some bad things happening in it. If you run multiple articles every day on the problems and nothing on the broader trends, it's easy to mislead your audience."

Another reason is branding. The law doesn't function under the label "Affordable Care Act" (much less "Obamacare"); there's very little in the wave of recent changes to the health care industry that Americans will identify as Obamacare. That makes it extremely difficult for supporters to tout popular provisions. And it makes it easy for opponents to claim they support the popular parts while still hating "Obamacare." It's a lot easier to claim that you favor a guaranty of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions but despise Obamacare than it is to claim that you like Medicare Part A but hate Medicare.

Cohn and Klein both rap the conservative press for hyping Obamacare's problems -- and potential problems -- while ignoring its successes. That's fair in many cases. However, in addition to honest and sympathetic analysts such as Cohn and Klein, it's also good to have honest skeptics (including my Bloomberg View colleague Megan McArdle and the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein) pushing hard against the White House line.

"Obamacare" was unlikely to be popular no matter what. But its success so far means it won't be repealed even if Republicans win unified control of the White House and Congress in 2016.

As Cohn says, just because Obamacare is working well now doesn't mean it will continue to do so in the future. Nor does it mean that there is nothing about the program to criticize. And here's an important point that liberals often don't acknowledge: It's perfectly legitimate to oppose the law even if it works as planned. It may not be a "government takeover" of health care or "socialism," but it is a major expansion of government's responsibilities, using regulation, taxes and market structure to transfer resources from wealthy Americans to those less wealthy.

Like it or not, the ACA is a major success for the Obama administration and the historic 111th Congress that enacted it. The law has fulfilled a long-frustrated, high-priority liberal goal. Obamacare will continue to be unpopular, but it's not going anywhere.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net