William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
"Talk to me like I'm a 2-year-old, please."
That's been my standing request to anyone trying to explain Obamacare -- that is to anyone who actually understands it, and there aren't many who do.
I conceded my ignorance in an earlier column -- "Confessions of an Obamacare Idiot." The pieces of the Affordable Care Act just never fit together for me.
Imagine my relief this week when I finally realized why: The pieces don't fit together. It took President Barack Obama's contrite and surreal news conference Thursday to arrive at that eureka moment.
The president's "punt" reminds me of the story of two freight trains barreling toward each other on the same track. Two alert boys, visualizing the impending calamity, struggle to spark a signal fire. The matches won't light. They jump up and down and wave their arms, but they are too small to be seen by the conductors. One boy begins to run.
"Where are you going?" shouts the other.
"To get my sister!" the runner shouts back.
"What can she do?"
"Nothing," replies the runner, "but there's about to be the biggest train crash ever, and she'll kill me if she misses it!"
President Obama has reset those trains barreling toward each other by proposing to "fix" the new individual insurance market regulations that have led to policy cancellations nationwide.
By allowing young and healthy Americans to get their low-cost insurance policies back -- if that's possible at this point -- the president will drive up the cost of Obamacare premiums even more for older, less healthy people because young people won't be helping shoulder the costs, causing greater political backlash against Democrats, who already are running for the hills.
The thing that never made sense was the president's promise to let individuals keep their plans. That "incorrect promise," as The New York Times put it, could never coexist with the ACA as sold to the American people, and it still can't.
People free to choose their own insurance plans will always choose the cheapest one that fits their needs. For Obamacare to work, the government has to force young and healthy Americans into the exchanges to offset the exorbitant cost of services to those in need of more medical attention. If it does not, premiums will necessarily rise for older and sicker Americans.
There are more problems with Obamacare, of course. Easily understandable ones. Just wait till the now-delayed employer mandate kicks in next year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects 7 million Americans to lose their employer-sponsored health care as a result of it in the next 10 years, and it estimates that 800,000 private-sector jobs will be eliminated. Millions more will see their hours reduced by employers avoiding the insurance mandate for full-time workers.
The loophole in the law that allows Americans to pay for insurance after they get sick, with only nominal fines discouraging the practice, cries out to rational people to take advantage of it. If you can pay a small fee not to have insurance until you need expensive medical care, why on Earth would pay for it before you do?
Congressional Republicans have been waving their arms and trying to light signal fires over the ACA for the past four years. They voted to repeal Obamacare 41 times.
Nothing more to do now than watch this thing play out.
Gotta go get my sisters . . .
William F. B. O'Reilly is a columnist and a Republican political consultant.