Young: Affordable Care Act deadline looms for hardworking Americans
March 12, 2014
As the deadline nears for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, two types of hardworking Americans should be furious.
First: the working-poor millions who would be covered under expanded Medicaid if their state's policy makers didn't refuse it.
Second: the millions who work second jobs mostly to pay for health coverage. That includes the 61-year-old who sacrificed most of his knee cartilage to a career hanging sheet rock. He now drags himself from shelf to shelf in a big-box retailer that, like his prior employers, doesn't do health coverage.
Second jobs were the story in the March 10 Time magazine. In this case, it was about an amazing group of nerds who spent months away from home and from high-dollar roles in Silicon Valley.
Their job: to nurse the crippled ACA website to functionality.
Read Steven Brill's story about these info commandos, assembled from across the country and led by a T-shirted Google troubleshooter named Mikey (yes, Mikey) Dickerson, and you'll root, root, root for the home team.
That is, unless you wished, wished, wished that it all came crashing down, and you are still wishing.
In that case, I'm sorry to report that healthcare.gov and the state exchanges have secured health coverage for more than 4 million. Terrible news, I know.
Oh, it looked deliciously horrible at first. As the astronauts said in "The Right Stuff," it looked like this administration "screwed the pooch" when contractors rushed healthcare.gov to the launch pad without a sufficient test run.
Enter last October a steely band of super geeks, who would alternately understate their heroics and fully understand the stakes before them.
Allusions to the hyper-risk of space travel are sprinkled throughout Brill's account:
"This is just a website. We're not going to the moon," Dickerson tells his cohorts.
An "Apollo 13 moment," is how administration point man Jeff Zients describes the dramatic effort to rescue the site.
Throughout, these people are driven by the only option available: Yes, it will work; it has to work.
They face bitter frustration, with system crashes at the worst possible time — like while lawmakers are hammering Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Capitol Hill.
Finally, against a swarm of setbacks, the task force turns the tide.
Two days before Christmas, a site that limped along for months takes off "like a rocket ship." That day healthcare.gov sees 129,000 enrollments.
Along with these numbers, Time reports response times cut from eight seconds in October to half a second in January.
All of this is to say that, well, nothing has changed for those who wish this landmark never happened. And nothing has changed for those whose states have left them hanging, in some cases their very lives swaying in political winds.
The advent of this law comes with more than your basic, Fox News-generated animus. A lot of people are about to be inflamed because they ignored the law and will get penalized at tax time.
Key point: Many of these people get money back from the government via the Earned Income Tax Credit. For playing roulette with their health care, possibly taxing us all with emergency room visits, unfortunately they will get less of that tax credit.
This is a tender moment for a nation. A lot of feelings are inflamed. I liken it to what happens with heart surgery. It comes with pain, disorientation, slow healing and, presumably, a new regimen, a new reality.
Pain: Though subsidies are going to mean health policies that will be better and lower cost than many imagined, some people will pay more and get less. This is exactly the price of having a public-private contrivance rather than following the Medicare model.
Disorientation: What is to come? Steven Brill ends his article by asking as much.
"The website works. Will Obamacare work?"
Answer: Yes, it will work; it has to work.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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