Why Obamacare Implementation Isn’t Actually A Disaster

As Obama administration officials work toward fully implementing the health care reform law, and prepare to begin enrolling Americans in the new state-level insurance marketplaces by 2014, Obamacare’s critics have decried the effort as nothing short of a disaster. Republican opponents of health reform have long complained that the legislation is too lengthy and complicated, business owners are too confused about what it means for them, and Americans won’t be able to figure out how to navigate their future insurance plans in the statewide markets. And earlier this month, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D–MT) suggested that the health law is so complicated that its implementation could be a “huge train wreck” going forward.

But, as President Obama pointed out during a press conference on Tuesday morning, most of those concerns are overblown — largely because a “huge chunk” of the health law has already been implemented. Obamacare isn’t threatening to create a huge headache for most of the country because it’s actually already in effect for all of the Americans who currently have health insurance. The president explained that from this point forward, implementation efforts will solely be focused on the 10 to 15 percent of Americans who remain uninsured, which is a relatively small part of the population:

For the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they are already experiencing most of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act even if they don’t know it… And their only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better, more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.

The implementation issues come in for those who don’t have health insurance — maybe because they have a preexisting condition and the only way they can get health insurance is to go out on the individual market, and they are paying 50 percent or 100 percent more than those of us who are lucky enough to have group plans. Or people who are too poor to get health insurance and their employers don’t offer it. Maybe they work for a small business and the small business can’t afford right now to provide health insurance. So, all the implementation issues that are coming up are implementation issues related to that small group of people: 10 to 15 percent of Americans. Now, it’s still 30 million Americans, but a relatively narrow group who don’t have health insurance right now.

Obama’s statements come on the heels of an announcement that the administration has simplified the application that Americans will use to apply for coverage in the health law’s state exchanges. After Obama administration officials published a first draft of the 21-page application, it was met with complaints that it would be too difficult to fill out. The Department of Health and Human Services addressed those concerns by revising the document and releasing a final version on Tuesday that’s much shorter, simpler, and easier to navigate.

Of course, overhauling the nation’s health care system does involve a lot of work — especially since Republican lawmakers have refused to cooperate with Obamacare over the past several years. Because many GOP leaders have avoided laying any groundwork on the state level, much of the law’s implementation has been left to the federal government. Federal officials are certainly working hard to prepare for the state-wide insurance markets’ open enrollment period, which is set to begin in October. Just as in the case of the new application, they may continue to make tweaks to streamline the process — but that doesn’t necessarily mean Obamacare’s implementation is a total disaster that will wreak havoc on the majority of Americans’ health coverage.