President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the...

President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Oct. 1, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

It's no coincidence that the federal shutdown began the same day the Affordable Care Act opened for business.

Alas, a political pandemic broke out.

The GOP has vilified the act since the day it became law three years ago and demanded that it be delayed a year. When the Democrats resisted, House Republicans refused to temporarily fund the government in the fiscal year that began yesterday.

So now many federal offices are closed.

The measure known as Obamacare was poorly drafted and poorly sold by proponents. But the nation's previous course on health care was unsustainable.

Republicans call the Affordable Care Act a job-killer. An unaffordable entitlement. Useless in controlling health care costs. The biggest stride yet toward a government takeover of health care.

Democrats answer that the act will extend coverage to 27 million of the uninsured, eliminate "free riders" who pay nothing for their care, and help contain health care costs. They say it will inaugurate major insurance reforms including the elimination of annual and lifetime coverage limits and exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

Taxpayers and policyholders have in fact been paying the bill for care for the nation's uninsured often in emergency rooms and hospitals, the most costly, inefficient ways imaginable. Insurance premiums and health care costs have soared for decades, outstripping pay raises and inflation. Medical expenses are a major cause of personal bankruptcies today.

That has to change, and Republicans, who voted more than 40 times in the House to repeal Obamacare, have offered no real alternative.

Obamacare is a big risk. The rollout will be bumpy and adjustments may be needed. But the GOP scorched-earth battle to scrap the program, and the Democrats' defensive crouch, will make rational corrections politically difficult.

This could be disastrous. The best hope is that the act will create a robust, competitive new insurance market.

The nation needs to make this work.

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