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Game Soon Over on Obamacare

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Voices from right field are explaining why they're justified in threatening the United States with default if Congress does not defund Obamacare. The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel said on Sunday chat TV, "There isn't one poll that shows that Americans approve, as a majority, of this health care law."

That's an interesting concept: repeal by poll. Can't find it in the civics books. And seeing as the polls also show huge chunks of the public unaware of what's in the Affordable Care Act -- or even of its existence -- of what use are those numbers? Further note that a significant slice of the unhappy ones complain that the reforms don't go far enough.

Of course, Obamacare could be repealed the old-fashioned civics-book way. That's not going to happen as long as there's a Democratic majority in the Senate. But Republicans could ride the imagined discontent to victory, via an election, and then get rid of the law.

Perhaps the objective of the game is the game. For pure excitement, it's hard to beat threats of a government shutdown -- and the attendant trauma to business, markets and the delicate economic recovery.

The game is not good for the American people, and as wiser Republicans say, it's not good for the Republican Party. Even a government shutdown, however, would not stop Obamacare, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The lapse in appropriations would hit only "discretionary" funding. Most of Obamacare is on the "mandatory" spending side of the budget. And the White House could move some mandatory spending around to fill discretionary cuts.

All this civics talk is giving the American people a headache. So let's look at the polls for Romneycare, the Massachusetts health care law and model for Obamacare. What do the Bay State polls say?

When it went into effect seven years ago, polls showed a skeptical, if not hostile, view of Romneycare. Now you couldn't pull the health plan out of the people's cold dead hands. The latest Massachusetts Medical Society poll has 84 percent of state residents happy with their health coverage, versus national polls showing only 67 percent of Americans so content.

Like Obamacare, the Massachusetts plan caused some confusion at first. Kinks needed to be ironed out and were.

Forgive this brief foray into policy. Warnings that Romneycare would lead Massachusetts businesses to drop their workers' coverage did not come to pass. On the contrary, employers offering insurance rose to 76 percent, from 70 percent before the reforms.

Obamacare is more fiscally conservative than was the original Romneycare. It does more to control costs.

For example, Obamacare proposes bundling payments for a medical condition. That basically means one check is written to cover soup-to-nuts treatment for an ailment, such as a broken foot. That removes incentives to order more X-rays, office visits or other care not needed. And it rewards providers who do a good job the first time around.

Massachusetts offers subsidies to those earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. In this, the federal government is more generous, starting subsidies at 400 percent of the poverty marker.

The fiscally conservative Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation praises Romneycare. The program's sharpest critics, the group says, are from out of state or single-payer advocates on the left.

Obamacare, like Romneycare, will soon earn the people's love. But between now and its full implementation, Americans will be dragged into the basement for another round of threats to their well-being.

There's no stopping the tea party folks from trying, but Obamacare will soon be part of the people's lives. The big neon sign will flash "Game Over," and the right-wingers will move on to their next adventure.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @fromaharrop. 

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