By Dean Baker, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
WASHINGTON — Most people don’t like to discuss their failures. The Democrats, however, seem unwilling to discuss their successes. This is the story of Obamacare.
For those who have forgotten, the Affordable Care Act was pushed through Congress almost entirely with Democratic votes. The Republicans objected, insisting the bill would destroy the health care system and the economy.
On the health care side, the Republicans issued dire warnings that the bill would lead to rationing of services, socialized medicine and death panels.
On the economics, they called the bill a massive job killer. It would deter businesses from hiring workers and the workers they did hire would be part time. Exploding health-care costs would both break the budget and the economy. The deficit would explode and insurance premiums would soar.
The widely predicted disaster did not happen.
In the data available so far, enrollment in the exchanges and Medicaid was higher than projected.
Over 8 million people enrolled in the exchanges through the first four months of 2014, far more than the 6 million that had been projected. Almost 5 million more benefited through the expansion of Medicaid. The percentage of people uninsured fell to the lowest level since 1997 in the first quarter of 2014 and is virtually certain to fall much further as enrollment continues to rise.
And costs have been far lower than expected. The Congressional Budget Office has repeatedly lowered its cost projections for the ACA and health care more generally. The savings for Medicare alone are projected to be well over $1 trillion in the next decade.
Private health-care costs have also risen at their slowest pace on record in the last five years, saving most families thousands of dollars on costs. All of the savings cannot be attributed to the ACA, but can anyone doubt that if cost growth had accelerated the Republicans would blame the ACA regardless of the actual cause?
The story of the ACA as a job killer also doesn’t hold water. No one can be happy about the current state of the labor market — we still have a long way to go to recover from the collapse of the housing bubble — but the weak economy can’t be blamed on the ACA.
In fact, job growth has accelerated to a pace of more than 2.5 million a year since the exchanges became operational in January. The faster job growth was almost certainly not caused by the ACA but again, if job growth had slowed the Republicans would be pointing their finger at the ACA.
The part-time story also turns out to be the exact opposite of what the Republicans predicted. The number of people who involuntarily work part time has fallen by more than 20 percent since the bill’s passage. However the number of people who chose to work part time is up.
In particular, the number of people with young children who now have the freedom to work part time because they don’t have to rely on their job for insurance is up by more than 11 percent since 2013.
Republicans used to tout family values, but apparently they no longer think it’s a good thing that parents get to spend time with their children, since it was Obamacare that made this possible.
By any reasonable measure the ACA has been far more successful than expected. However, most people don’t know the successes because the Democrats are too scared to talk about the ACA. They only hear the Republican horror stories, some of which are true and some of which are pure invention.
The reality is that the ACA is a massive program. As with any massive program there will be some bad stories, just as there are some bad stories with Social Security and Medicare.
We have the data to show these bad stories are the exception, but if the Democrats don’t start talking about the successes, most people will only hear the bad stories.
Dean Baker is a leading macroeconomist, co-founder of the Center for Economic Policy and Research (cepr.org) and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan in 1988. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20009.
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