Gridlock is not the answer
Editors Baltimore Times | 10/4/2013, 6 a.m.
Americans awoke Tuesday, October 1, 2013, to the fact that nearly half the federal government has shut down, and to a certainty that one-sixth of the United States economy will be profoundly altered via Obamacare. We mention these two points together because House Republicans want a one-year delay on new health provisions before they'll approve a new federal budget. Democrats refuse.
Result: Hundreds of thousands of "nonessential" government workers may be idled for, days, weeks or perhaps months. Many federal offices are closed and workers furloughed while Congress tries to untangle itself. Essential services— cutting Social Security checks, patrolling the border, keeping airports safe— will continue.
However, even a government shutdown won't stop the Obamacare rollout. This is the largest health care expansion since the passage of Medicare in 1965. It is here, now. Millions of Americans must obtain coverage or pay a penalty. On Tuesday, the new online marketplaces opened for business. That means some of Obamacare's mysteries have become clearer: What will coverage cost? What will the plans cover? How much will co-pays and deductibles be? As we write, we don't know what Maryland residents may find when they surf the new website: http://marylandhbe.com/.
Federal and state officials have scrambled for months, blowing deadline after deadline, to make the system ready. They have encountered bugs: A few days ago came reports that the software was miscalculating the federal subsidies available to low-income people who seek to buy coverage. We all know the people who crouch in front of their computers, ready at the stroke of midnight to buy the latest iPhone or sign up for the Next Big Internet Thing. In this case, however, you may want to wait for a few days (weeks?) to let the feds work out the kinks. Maryland has reported some glitches.
What is certain is that Obamacare health care changes will ripple through every American's life. Doctors, hospitals and insurers have invested large sums to gear up for the law's complex requirements. They'll treat many new patients.
Employers are scrambling to make decisions: Hire? Fire? Cut workers' hours? Even those that now provide health care may shunt employees into new, privately run exchanges. That's a rapidly evolving alternative to today's employer-managed insurance system and to Obamacare: Employers pay a set amount for employees, who then choose from among multiple plans on a private exchange.
Millions of Americans stand to gain or lose from this law and its consequences,
intended and unintended and now, as if to compound all the controversy that Obamacare has provoked, it's caught up in an epic battle over deficits and debt. House Republicans gamble that Americans won't blame them for hanging a "closed" sign on national parks and monuments or for stalling applications for small business loans or delaying an Internal Revenue Service audit.
The Republicans argue that Obamacare's mandates are so unpopular that Americans will understand a shutdown. We think they instead should be focusing their attack on the unsustainability of all major entitlement programs. Obamacare, for all of the difficulties getting the country to this point, will finally give individuals and families the opportunity to see doctors instead of getting their primary care through emergency rooms.
Families will be able to keep their children on their coverage plans until they are
26-years-old. However, we must have young healthy people participate in this process or the program will likely become even more expensive for taxpayers.
Once Republicans and Democrats stop grandstanding and blaming each other for the current crisis, we think there is an easy solution to this impasse: Instead of delaying the entire program, simply suspend the mandate for a year.
Holding off on the mandate would not end the law but it would put employers and employees on equal footing. Waiting on the mandate, the most controversial part of the law, could allow both major political parties to declare victory. Even better, it would allow millions of Americans who obtain coverage under Obamacare, and many who don't, to see how the program works.