Is "Obamacare" already a failure? The torrent of criticism that has accompanied the opening of health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act - known as "Obamacare" - has continued unabated.
Republicans say the problems with the program's websites (and with some private insurance customers having their old policies canceled under the new law) demonstrate that "Obamacare," and perhaps liberalism itself, is a failure.
Does "Obamacare" need to be fixed? Can it be? What's next in the unending debate over the law? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
JOEL MATHIS: Remember, Republicans always were going to declare "Obamacare" a failure out of the gate. Always.
That's partly sincere: The law's very existence defies GOP preferences that markets have the final say on just about everything. But some of it is transparently insincere, a hope that if the word "failure" is uttered often enough, Americans will agree with it.
That noise makes it somewhat more difficult to make a fair assessment of the law. So does the fact that it's early yet - remember all the angry news stories that accompanied the launch of George W. Bush's Medicare Part D program a few years back? The problems were fixed; Americans seem satisfied with it today. As loud and as angry as the critics are now, the same could yet happen to "Obamacare." Or not. Some lefty critics are already jumping ship - liberals like Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect, who wrote this week that the health law "had too many moving parts. It was an accident waiting to happen." He would rather have seen Medicare gradually extended, group by group, until everybody was covered.
If Kuttner is right, then liberals were wrong to be angry with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who after the failure of their own universal health care bill in the 1990s, backtracked to "small ball" legislation that incrementally advanced liberal goals.
Among those smaller programs: The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which greatly expanded health coverage for poor children.
Obama's candidacy for president was based, in part, on the premise that the Clintons were wrong - but few politicians would try to end CHIP today. "Obamacare," meanwhile, is a continual target for repeal.
Many people would be hurt by repeal - not least of all the patients with "pre-existing conditions" who long found themselves without the insurance to pay for expensive medical treatments. "Obamacare" makes denying coverage to such patients illegal.
There's still time to assess the program. It might be bad. But it's almost certainly not as bad as Republicans say.
BEN BOYCHUK Oh, no. It's pretty bad.
Begin with the promise President Obama and his advisers knew he could never possibly keep: "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan.
Period. No one will take it away. No matter what." In retrospect, that "period" should have been a hint the president wasn't telling the truth in 2009. And the "no matter what" was just twisting the knife.
As millions of people across the country already have discovered, they can't keep their insurance, because it doesn't meet new federal requirements. Soon, many will find they won't be able to keep their doctors, either, as insurers trim their provider networks to control costs.
Defenders of the law say that the insurance plans people are losing weren't very good to begin with, and not worth keeping. Maybe so. But suddenly, people and small businesses in the individual insurance market are finding their replacement premiums are orders of magnitude higher than what they once paid.
Could it possibly get any worse? You bet.
Remember, the president with a stroke of a pen earlier this year delayed the law's employer mandate, which requires businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to offer insurance or pay stiff penalties. Many large businesses already had been cutting workers' hours to offset the coming expense. That mandate is supposed to take effect after the 2014 elections.
What would make for better reform? A market-oriented solution would extend consumer choices beyond the heavily regulated, cartel-like "exchanges" the states and federal government offer now. Health insurance companies should be allowed to compete across state lines. Congress might even consider generous refundable tax credits to purchase individual health insurance, in lieu of employer-provided plans. And people still could qualify even with pre-existing conditions.
"Obamacare" is a catastrophe built on false promises. Repeal it and replace it with something that actually empowers consumers rather than punishes them with higher costs and fewer choices.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis is a contributing editor to Philadelphia Magazine.