This could be the worst column I’ve ever written. My view is that President Obama is doing as good a job as could be expected from any human being, given the realities of the world we live in. I voted for him twice, and if our presidents could serve three terms, I would happily vote for him again over any of the other choices we are likely to have.
But I can also read the writing on the wall, and have come to the conclusion that the Affordable Care Act was a major strategic blunder on the part of those who believe healthcare should be a right and not a privilege. In fact, its passage may set that particular cause back a generation or more.
We’ve all heard the horror stories, and the rebuttals. We’ve watched the Daily Show clips, both making fun of the glitch-fest that is Healthcare.gov and the people trying to make political hay by pointing out glitches.
And it’s that haymaking that is at the heart of the problem with the Affordable Care Act. We were all there while the grinder of D.C. “compromise” gutted the legislation. The public option was removed and the mandate remained, making the law little more than a method through which to funnel people into the private insurance market.
It should be made clear, the ACA does actually represent an improvement in my own life. I haven’t had health insurance for quite some time, because it’s too expensive, and I spent my twenties working shitty jobs that barely (if at all) provided benefits. As things stand, I will have a generous subsidy available to me, and will easily be able to afford decent coverage.
That’s fucking awesome.
I haven’t signed up yet, only because I know it’s going to be a headache (and with whatever insurance I choose not taking effect until January, there’s little reason to rush). But I certainly will, and, for my situation, Obamacare is a win.
But for my friend Andy, a self-employed oyster farmer, the outlook is not so rosy. In addition to running a successful business, Andy is a firm believer in the principle that learning is a lifelong process, so he is generally enrolled in at least a class or two at the university. A self-made entrepreneur and intellectual, as well as a dedicated environmental conservationist. Pretty much a badass American, all around.
Prior to January, Andy was able to purchase insurance through the university for $800 per semester to cover both himself and his wife. Because of the policy changes of the Affordable Care Act, that particular option will cost twice as much come January.
And yes, there are other options, and thanks to the exchanges—just because they’re glitchy don’t mean they ain’t worthwhile—Andy will have access to more of them than he would before. But as a successful businessman, he won’t qualify for the subsidies available to me.
Not because he has money coming out of his ears. When I say successful business, I mean one that provides a home and everything in it for his family, not car elevators and summer houses in the Hamptons. And the extra money that will be required by whatever option Andy chooses will take a nasty bite out of his family’s budget.
Will his kids starve because of it? No, but that’s mostly because Andy is the kind of dude who would do whatever he had to in order to provide.
Instead, the next time one of those awesome little human beings gets the chance to have an amazing experience—i.e. science camp, experiencing other cultures through travel, etc.—there’s a good possibility that Andy will have to look at his kid and say, “We just can’t afford it right now.”
So an American citizen who built his own honest business from scratch and is continually trying to enrich his mind and grow as a person is being punished for what he is. That is the definition of failed legislation. And because of that, Andy and the millions of Americans in similar situations aren’t going to want to hear about single-payer healthcare anytime soon.
I’m not mad at the fact that I can finally afford healthcare. My life is valuable and worth preserving, regardless of my economic status. But for that to come at the cost of hurting that beautiful family, it just isn’t worth it, not to me.
Our president isn’t a stupid man. He knows all too well the limits of the ACA. My take is that he and his political team felt that, despite the legislation’s flaws, its passage was essential to the Obama reelection effort. Just as those members of Bush’s team who saw the writing on the wall regarding Iraq went along because they knew being in an active conflict would essentially guarantee Dubya’s second term.
And that’s why the Affordable Care Act is Obama’s Iraq. Because, once again, our leaders have knowingly gone forward with bad policy because of their own political selfishness, convincing themselves that it was good for the country because it was good for them.
We’ll be living with the consequences long after those who put the bad policy in place are out of office and fishing at their swanky summer homes.
Alex Benson can be reached at email@example.com.