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Obamacare numbers refute program critics

January 7, 2019

To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous quip about democracy, Obamacare might be the worst national health insurance program … except for all the other ones. The numbers for the latest signup period that closed last month show that millions of Americans continue to rely on this controversial program, either because they like it or they have no other options. Either way, the statistics refute the program’s critics — who invariably don’t offer an alternative anyway.

Nationwide, about 8.4 million people, including about 1.1 million Texans, are now enrolled under the Affordable Care Act, the formal name of the program. The nationwide numbers are down about 5 percent from the previous year, and the totals in Texas are down about 3.6 percent.

Part of that decrease can be attributed to the incredible decline in unemployment, which puts more Americans in jobs where they can get health insurance through their employers. That’s clearly welcome.

Unfortunately, another factor in the decline has to be the relentless attacks by some Republicans and the Trump administration, which has undermined the law at every opportunity. These foes of Obamacare have made it harder to enroll in the program and reduced its benefits. In turn, that makes it less attractive to prospective enrollees and allows critics to claim that support for the program is falling.

In fact, public support for Obamacare has remained fairly steady since the 2016 election, when Republicans in Congress and President Trump promised to quickly repeal the law. Many Americans realized that these opponents had no replacement lined up or even on the drawing board. Faced with the choice between no health care at all and an admittedly flawed effort like Obamacare, many people quickly figured out that something was better than nothing. Their representatives in Congress — including some Republicans — heard them loud and clear.

If Americans had other options for health care, they might pursue them. If Obamacare’s critics would provide those choices, their opposition would be more logical.

The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House means that any attempt to repeal Obamacare in the new Congress is a nonstarter. Yet a federal judge in Texas has ruled the entire law unconstitutional because its mandate for coverage was repealed, and higher courts must decide if he went too far. Most legal analysts believe he did, but of course that’s not guaranteed until a final ruling is handed down.

We’re guessing that millions of people struggling with pre-existing conditions or high bills for prescription meds will hope that Obamacare survives this final test.

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