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February 13, 2014 1:19 PM Obamacare Working? La La La Can’t Hear You!

By Ed Kilgore

As MoJo’s Erica Eikelberger noted yesterday, Wednesday was a day full of positive developments for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act:

More Americans enrolled in Obamacare plans in January than expected, according to data released Wednesday by the Obama administration. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had expected to sign up 1,059,900 people last month. Instead, about 1.14 million people purchased health plans through the federal and state health insurance exchanges.
This is the first time since the uninsured started buying insurance on the exchanges in October that the administration has beaten a monthly enrollment goal….
There was also a slight uptick in the number of young adults signing up for coverage in January. A quarter of the Americans who have enrolled so far are young people, who tend to be healthier, and who the Obama administration needs to hold down insurance costs. That’s below the 40 percent target, but the trend is moving in the right direction.
The percentage of Americans who are uninsured hit a five-year low this month, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

These are positive trends, not signs of final success, but they definitely confirm the predictions of most experts that the horrid rollout of healthcare.gov was a temporary setback to Obamacare implementation, not some sort of stake-to-the-heart.

But what’s interesting politically is that these positive trends are being ignored as ontologically impossible by conservatives convinced that Obamacare has already failed, once and for all. Google “Obamacare failure” and you will see what I mean. Indeed, the big news this week on the Right with respect to Obamacare has been the delay in implementation of the large-to-medium employer mandate, a relatively minor piece of the system.

It is obviously possible to oppose the Affordable Care Act and even desire its complete repeal without denouncing it as a failure in terms of its own goals and timetables. But aside from the implicit concession that the law won’t be repealed embedded in the development of alternative health plans, we’re not hearing much if any admission the “fail” judgment might have been premature. And indeed, it’s important to understand that a lot of recent Republican behavior on the fiscal front (e.g., the agreement to a budget deal and the avoidance of a debt default crisis) is based on the unshakable belief that Obamacare is inherently a disaster that will sink Democrats this November, which means the GOP must do nothing to distract voters from that central reality. Thus any positive news must be ignored and administration efforts to improve Obamacare implementation must be denounced as an unprecedented abuse of executive powers, nay, an assault on the heart of the Constitution.

I have no way of knowing how much of this epistemic closure about Obamacare is genuine, and how much is designed to convince Americans (whose knowledge of the actual terms and impact of the Affordable Care Act remains very limited) that it’s a monstrous failure even if it’s not. But as the contrast between reality and conservative perception increases, something’s got to give.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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