The Obamacare team takes the field today, as the vaunted health insurance exchanges open for business. Though parts of the law have been in effect for about three years, what happened until this point was just spring training. Now we’re playing for keeps.
In many ways, Obamacare is trailing even before the ceremonial first pitch has been thrown. The administration was forced to postpone for another year its mandate that larger employers provide health insurance to workers. All sorts of glitches and limitations have been uncovered in many of the online exchanges, which are state-run in 14 states and partially or entirely under federal control in the remaining 36.
Critics of Obamacare will have no trouble finding things to boo once the game gets underway. I would save the catcalls, however.
I am no fan of Obamacare. Longtime readers know that I think the Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed and is liable to gravely damage or destroy the private health insurance market. These consequences, however, will not play out in the three months between now and the time when the newly sold plans take effect, on New Year’s Day. The new law may destroy the economics behind health insurance, but the process will require at least a few years to play out.
Many of the technical and administrative glitches we hear about now are just distractions. News reports last week indicated that some crucial software could not accurately calculate the amount of federal subsidy to which applicants are entitled based on their income. Without knowing the subsidy, purchasers cannot make an informed choice about which plan they want to buy. In the small business market, at least some of the online exchanges are not prepared to offer plans for sale at all; business owners must either wait for software updates or shop for insurance plans directly with insurers or via brokers.
These problems will probably be fixed fairly quickly. I would not get excited about the headlines, pro or con, that appear in the first weeks and months of the new health care regime.
My patience may come from being a longtime follower of the New York Mets. The Mets have a long history of futility, punctuated by a few glimpses of brilliance. This weekend they completed their 29th season with a losing record, against only 23 in which they have won more than they have lost.
Yet the Mets, oddly enough, have the best Opening Day record in baseball. Their 11-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on April 1 gave them a 34-18 record in season openers. This is just a hair under two-thirds of their games, and no major league baseball team can match this achievement.
There is no particular reason why the Mets are so good on Opening Day yet so bad, relatively speaking, later on. It is a statistical fluke. It means nothing. In the course of a long season (baseball's 162-game schedule is easily the longest in major league team sports), the strengths of a good team and the shortcomings of a bad one become obvious.
So it will be with Obamacare. If the law really is a champion, its strengths will show themselves in due course. But if the Affordable Care Act really belongs back in the bush leagues, it will be painful to watch it struggle and flail.
I know, because I follow the Mets.