FOR DIEHARD critics of President Obama’s health care overhaul, the crashes plaguing the websites of many state and federal insurance exchanges upon their launch Tuesday were yet another indictment of the law. “It’s 12:09 a.m. EDT,” crowed one GOP House member on Twitter, “and the Obamacare exchanges do not work.” That same Tuesday, House Republicans were willing to let the federal government shut down to further their own efforts to defund Obamacare.
Unfortunately, the GOP’s hard line against the Affordable Care Act has taken strikingly little account of a major reason why HealthCare.gov and state exchange sites were crashing: Because there’s enormous pent-up demand for reliable health coverage in much of the country, the sites were mobbed with traffic from people who need health coverage and wanted to assess their options. Clearly, the federal government didn’t make sufficient provision, but the rush also helps explain why the law was passed to begin with.
Anxieties over health coverage extend well beyond the millions of Americans who are currently uninsured. The fear of being unable to get health coverage has kept workers from leaving even jobs that ill suit them, and likely dissuades people from venturing out and starting businesses of their own. Encouraging flexibility in the labor market and promoting individual entrepreneurship ought to be bipartisan concerns.
There are legitimate questions about how parts of Obamacare will work in practice. Already, some companies have reduced workers’ hours so that fewer will qualify for health coverage that large employers must offer. Yet in their showy refusal to consider, or let their party leaders consider, any option short of pulling Obamacare up by the root, the House’s most conservative Republicans are preventing a more substantive discussion about how to improve the law. They’re also ignoring the practical needs of millions of Americans — the same ones who crashed websites this week in their efforts to get good coverage.