TIME Health Care

Obamacare: Economic Boon?

President Barack Obama at the White House on February 12, 2014.
President Barack Obama at the White House on February 12, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Duncan Black makes an argument that liberals haven’t emphasized nearly enough about the Affordable Care Act: that it could well be a shot in the arm for the economy.

It is, in truth, a conservative argument–a freedom argument. I’ve always loved the logic of it. There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people with clever ideas for starting businesses who are trapped in their current jobs because of the need to provide health insurance for their families. These are the potential Wright brothers, the middle managers who see a better, more efficient way to process a product, the tinkerers who come up with a new valve, the designers who come up with a snazzzy new pattern.

The ad hoc employer-based American health care system has been an impediment to such people, especially for those who have family members with pre-existing conditions. And that’s why I immediately dismissed, out of hand, the CBO report that said 2 million jobs would be “lost” under Obamacare (the CBO meant, of course, that an estimated 2 million people would choose to leave their jobs). The problem is, there is no way to anticipate or calculate the number of jobs that will be created by newly liberated entrepreneurs–what if there’s a FedEx or a Sam Adams in the mix?

And so, it is good to know that there is mildly happy news today on the Obamacare front–1.1 million new signups in February, including a healthy number of young people. The overall fate of the law remains unclear, of course. As Michael Shear and Reed Abelson report in the Times:

[I]ndustry experts and insurance officials say that the reality is murkier than either party wants to admit, and that the numbers at the heart of the national political debate are largely meaningless outside Washington’s overheated environment. The determination about whether the law works from an economic standpoint will not be clear for years, when individual insurance companies are finally able to tell whether their expectations about the health of their customers — and the premiums they set for coverage — were accurate.

The good news is that if the law is imperfect, as it undoubtedly will be in some aspects, it can be modified. Other countries have managed to provide national health insurance--and not neceessarily socialized medicine–without too much of a fuss. In the end, I hope that we’ll eventually move to a system like the Wyden-Bennett proposal, which would entirely remove the health insurance burden from American corporations, allowing them to compete in the global market on the same basis as companies in other advanced economies do. Conservatives call this sort of system “premium support”–vouchers to buy health insurance are given (by the government) according to need; liberals call this system…single-payer. There will be an argument about how generous the benefits will be, but that’s a benign necessity–democracy needs to work such things out in public view.

We are, perhaps, light years away from the adjustments that will create a more perfect health insurance system. The Affordable Care Act is a nice place to start. I wish it had been implemented better; I hope it will be modified and simplified. Most of all, I hope that saner heads will prevail, that the nonsense passing for talking points (especially from the wingers) will abate and things like this piece of unprocessed inanity will have no place in the public debate.

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