By John Burbank
Republicans in the Congress have lost. They failed to stop the Affordable Care Act from starting up. Every day, more and more people sign up for health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act. And every day, by doing nothing, the hole the republicans have dug for themselves gets deeper and deeper.
The numbers in our state tell the story: In just five days, 9,500 people completed their health care enrollments. Of these, 2,600 got immediate coverage. For the rest of the new enrollees, coverage kicks in on Jan. 1. They want this coverage. One thousand have already made their payments — two and a half months in advance.
People want — and need — health coverage. There is a pent-up need and a pent-up demand. Washington’s health exchange website has had 165,000 unique visitors, their call center has received 23,000 calls, almost 40,000 accounts have been created, and 10,000 applications have been completed in addition to the 9,500 enrollments.
This is a story of defeat for the congressional Republicans. But it is a story of hope and promise for our state and our country … that is, if you believe that American citizens should have the right to affordable health care.
Some people think the Affordable Care Act doesn’t do enough. It’s not universal health coverage. It is not a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system. It works through the market of private health insurance companies. It doesn’t challenge pharmaceutical pricing. That all is true … and it is beside the point.
The Affordable Care Act is what we have. Yes, it was a tortured process of political compromise and bargaining. But it is the law. And now we see that it works. The Congressional Republicans should embrace it. Its genesis was in right-wing think tanks that wanted to preserve the private market options for health care. They won that argument. Now we see that it successfully extends health coverage. Great — the GOP should embrace this instead of running away from it.
Instead, the actual implementation of the Affordable Care Act has pulled the curtain aside and revealed the true intentions of the congressional Republicans: they don’t want to extend health coverage to Americans.
Our state’s own congressional Republicans — Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings and Jaime Herrera Butler — are partly responsible for the government shutdown being used in an attempt to defund Obamacare. They aren’t questioning their own leadership. They’re kowtowing to the tea party caucus.
Sure, they have made a big deal about forgoing their pay or giving it to charity during the government shutdown. But none of them are giving up their government-provided health coverage. None of them would want to see themselves or their family members denied care because of pre-existing conditions. None of them want to impose lifetime limits on their own insurance coverage, and frankly, if there were limits, probably some of them would go bankrupt.
These members of Congress have all the benefits of the Affordable Care Act themselves — they just don’t want their constituents, the American citizens who vote for (and against) them, to have the right to those benefits.
It doesn’t have to be this way. They don’t have to proceed along this crazy pathway to defund the federal government — which wouldn’t roll back the Affordable Care Act anyway. Washington’s congressional Republicans should learn from some of their Republican colleagues in our state Legislature — those 22 Republicans from all over the state who voted for the operating expenses of the health benefit exchange. They wanted to make the Affordable Care Act work. And now that it is working, they can claim some of the credit! That’s what governance is all about in our democracy.
Congressional Republicans should take that lesson to heart … and stop playing ideological games with Americans’ health.
John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org