In a recent online post for the Roosevelt Institute, the economics commentator Mike Konczal said most of what needs to be said about the underlying sources of the Affordable Care Act’s complexity, which in turn set the stage for the current tech problems. Basically, Obamacare is not complicated because government social insurance programs have to be complicated: Neither Social Security nor Medicare is complex in structure. As Mr. Konczal wrote, it’s complicated because political constraints made a straightforward single-payer system unachievable.
It’s been clear all along that the Affordable Care Act sets up a sort of Rube Goldberg device: a complicated system that in the end is supposed to more or less simulate the results of single-payer, but keeping private insurance companies in the mix and holding down the headline amount of government outlays through means-testing. This doesn’t make it unworkable: State exchanges are working, and healthcare.gov will probably get fixed before the whole thing kicks in. But it did make a botched rollout much more likely.
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So Mr. Konczal is right to say that the implementation problems aren’t revealing problems with the idea of social insurance; they’re revealing the price we pay for insisting on keeping insurance companies in the mix, when they serve little useful purpose.
Does this mean that liberals should have insisted on single-payer or nothing? No. Single-payer wasn’t going to happen — partly because of the insurance lobby’s power, partly because voters wouldn’t have gone for a system that took away their existing coverage and replaced it with the unknown. Yes, Obamacare is a somewhat awkward kludge, but if that’s what it took to cover the uninsured, so be it.
And although the botched rollout is infuriating — count me among those who believe that liberals best serve their own cause by admitting that, and not trying to cover for the botch — the odds remain high that this will work, and make America a much better place.
Borscht Belt Republicans
Has anyone else noticed how much the G.O.P. position on Obamacare resembles the classic borscht belt joke about the two ladies at a Catskills resort?
Lady No. 1: “The food here is so terrible, it’s inedible!”
Lady No. 2: “And the portions are so small!”
Republican No. 1: “Obamacare is slavery!”
Republican No. 2: “And it’s so hard to sign up!”