Spooked by the many flaws of healthcare.gov, a handful of Democrats in Washington are echoing Republican calls to delay an Affordable Care Act requirement that all adults obtain health insurance by next year.
That's too hasty.
It's not yet clear that the technical problems hindering the rollout of the federal health insurance exchange can't be resolved in time to enroll people in insurance programs. Moreover, the Obama administration already extended the deadline six weeks, until March 31, because of the website issues.
Until they're resolved, people can sign up over the phone or in person. In 14 states residents don't need the federal website at all. Problems with the state exchanges, including coveredca.com, have been relatively minor in comparison to those with the federal website.
Democrats stuck together at the beginning of October when Republicans forced a partial shutdown of the federal government in yet another a failed attempt to block the Affordable Care Act. To the GOP's chagrin, the shutdown — and the hostile public reaction — overshadowed the troubles with healthcare.gov for more than two weeks.
With the shutdown over and the public focusing again on health care, it isn't surprising that Republicans are using the website problems to refuel their perpetual campaign to thwart Affordable Care Act. It's hardly a coincidence that the nervous Democrats face challenges next year in races considered competitive by election handicappers.
But there's more at stake here than denying a scalp to the Republicans or providing cover for vulnerable Democrats.
The Affordable Care Act is the biggest change to health care in the United States since Medicare was enacted a half-century ago. Besides expanding access to medical care, the law is a prerequisite to gaining control over the rising cost of health care, which accounts for about 17 percent of GDP.
The law, adopted in 2010, includes requirements for individuals to obtain health insurance and companies with more than 50 employees to offer coverage. It sets minimum policy requirements, expands access to Medicaid, provides subsidies to help cover premiums and establishes penalties for ignoring insurance mandates. It also outlaws denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions and allows parents to keep children on their policies until they turn 26.
If you doubt the importance of that last provision, or the need for healthy young adults to be insured, read the article by Steve Spriggs, a father from Clovis, in last Sunday's Forum section ("Obamacare, on a personal level"). Spriggs' 22-year-old son was hit by a driver who ran a red light, and the cost of his medical care would have fallen on the taxpayers without the Affordable Care Act.
Delaying the requirement to obtain insurance would invite people to become free riders, as many are today, relying on emergency rooms for care they can't afford and don't have insurance to pay for. Because the law prohibits insurers from denying coverage, something the Republicans aren't challenging, there would be no incentive to buy insurance until you are sick or injured without the mandate. And that would truly be a prescription for failure.