Anger epidemic threatens 'Obamacare'

It passed the constitutional test, now it's time to promote its virtues

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Now that overturning the Affordable Care Act is no longer an option, Republicans will have to find some other focus for their free-floating anger.

They can't very well take it out on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, no matter how much they believe he stabbed them in the back by upholding "Obamacare."

Mr. Roberts confounded just about everyone by finding the law constitutional, but he's been pretty reliable on other conservative issues, in particular the Citizens United debacle that tilts the political playing field even more heavily toward the super-rich than it was already.

But the fact remains that justices serve for life. There's no kicking them off the bench short of impeachment -- a fate richly deserved by Antonin Scalia, who has been making bald-faced political speeches that should disqualify him from a post that's supposed to be impartial, but, with this Congress, won't.

So the most likely redirection for Obama-hate (besides going after Attorney General Eric Holder) will be the effort to elect Mitt Romney as the president's replacement. Which is pretty ironic given that the Republican candidate, suddenly a fire-breathing opponent of the health care law, pushed through a strikingly similar overhaul when he was governor of Massachusetts.

That, of course, was before his party went bonkers trying to block Mr. Obama at every turn no matter how much it hurt ordinary citizens, health reform being the prime example.

Nobody captured this craziness better than political humorist Andy Borowitz in his online Borowitz Report, who offered these made-up, yet completely plausible quotes from prominent Republicans after the bulk of the health care reform law was upheld.

Mitt Romney: "I vow to repeal this law on my first day in office. Until then, I will work tirelessly to make people forget that I used to totally love it."

Antonin Scalia: "The only medical procedures the government should pay for are forced transvaginal ultrasounds and exorcisms."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: "Under Obamacare, you will be forced to marry a gay doctor."

And Speaker of the House John Boehner: "If we are forced to have health care, it's only a matter of time before we have education."

Opposing Obama's signature legislation is essential to Mr. Romney's courting of the party's base, but really, does anyone believe him? "I was for health care reform before I was against it" is not exactly red meat on the campaign trail. Even if he barnstorms the country pounding on the issue with a straight face, only the most gullible and desperate customers will buy it.

Mr. Obama has his own credibility problems, having promised things that he couldn't deliver. But this health care victory is a huge one. It's going to paper over a lot of other shortcomings, but only if his administration goes into high gear touting its benefits -- something it failed to do out of the gate, when it would have counted most.

There's plenty to trumpet. Once the law goes fully into effect, many of the things about the country's health care system that have been driving us crazy for what seems like forever are going to disappear.

These outrages have been with us for so long, it's hard to imagine life without them. But what a relief to those who fall ill, if they can concentrate on their treatment instead of worrying about losing their coverage or despairing over how to pay for it.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer:

Cancel policies; deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition; charge women more than men; put annual or lifetime caps on benefits.

But they will have to:

Keep young adults on their parents' health plans until they turn 26 -- an invaluable benefit in a down economy and tight job market, where many in their 20s are working in unpaid internships, low-wage or part-time jobs. The White House says 6.6 million young people already have been helped by this provision.

Provide preventive care such as mammograms and senior wellness visits without a co-pay.

Send rebates this summer to 13 million Americans because the company spent too many premium dollars on CEO bonuses or high administrative costs (Highmark, are you listening?)

Close the "donut hole" in Medicare coverage, saving older and disabled people an average of $600 for prescription drugs. This provision, the administration says, has helped more than 5 million people.

Despite all these positives, polls show the American people are highly skeptical, and Republicans will be exploiting that in the coming months. So even with the law upheld, the president has to do a much better job selling its benefits or else pay for it at the ballot box. Lucky for the American people, he's always been better in campaign mode. "Elections have consequences," he said after his victory in 2008. This one will, too.

sallykalson

Sally Kalson is a staff writer and columnist for the Post-Gazette (skalson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1610). First Published July 1, 2012 12:00 AM


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