Come this fall, any hopes the Democrats may have at taking back the House of Representatives rest in their ability to convince the American people that their vision for America is better than the Republicans’ vision. While possible, and some suggest even likely, recent history tells us we should never underestimate the ability of the Democratic Party to screw up the proverbial free lunch. After all, this is the same group of folks about which the great singing cowboy Will Rogers once said, “I am not a member of any organized political party, I am a Democrat.” However, the potential for taking the House is there even as the Republicans, led by an embattled and deeply polarizing President, somehow enjoy the spoils of the Obama economic recovery they fought tooth and nail to undermine. The corporate media is reveling in its usual myopia as it figures out who in Trump’s orbit colluded with Russians in Trump Tower with the candlestick (smart money is on Colonel Mustard!). All the while, the Democrats themselves are unable, or unwilling, to sell the American people on their most significant legislative accomplishment in decades, the Affordable Care Act.
To understand the Democrats’ futility, it is first necessary understand the dogma of deception associated with the Affordable Care Act. From the very beginning, the ACA was under assault from the Republicans while the Democrats ran terrified in the opposite direction. This was part of the GOP Inauguration Day strategy of kneecapping President Obama’s agenda at every turn and returning GOP control to Capitol Hill. Consider the 2013 launch of the ACA website as an example. The rollout of the marketplace exchange was a comedic debacle for the Obama Administration, allowing the Republicans to link the efficacy of the ACA to the utility of its website. Never mind that, using this logic, if the Delta and American Airlines websites crashed while you were booking a flight, then most certainly your plane was going to crash, too! The Republicans successfully trashed the ACA with great sound and fury … while signifying nothing. The facts are, however, that by any intellectually honest measure (two concepts sorely missed in a post-Trump election world), the ACA has been an unmitigated success. The ACA has survived misinformation campaigns and anecdotal stories of personal catastrophes at the hands of “socialized” medicine and succeeded in achieving three monumental goals in American healthcare: expanding insurance coverage to more Americans, increasing the services provided as benefits of coverage, and slowing the rising costs of healthcare. Each requires a quick examination of facts in order to show the full scope of Democratic ineptitude.
First, tens of millions more Americans have healthcare coverage today than before the ACA. This is both as a percentage of the population and the number of people covered. But don’t take just anyone’s word for it, take the Trump Administration’s. According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2016, 20 million more people had healthcare coverage than in 2010. Among working age adults, 69.2 percent or 136.4 million Americans are covered by private health insurance plans. This is important given Republicans’ and corporate Democrats’ oft-mentioned obsession with private plans being “good” and public plans being “bad.” (It’s tough for Chuck and Nancy to keep their donor base happy when Grandma is enjoying Medicare, returning service members are using their VA benefits, and millions more lower-income Americans have access to Medicaid.) But facts are facts, and the ACA has succeeded in expanding coverage.
Secondly, people have increased services through their coverage, both new and existing. But again, don’t take just anyone’s word for it: take the Trump Administration’s. The Department of Health and Human Services explains that the ACA eliminates discriminatory insurance practices like denying you or your family coverage because of a pre-existing condition. The ACA prevents insurers from dropping or limiting your coverage because of benefit limits. The ACA ensures you can protect your children as they attend school or start their adult lives by keeping them on your insurance policy until they are 26. The ACA requires that plans offer preventive services for potentially life-threatening conditions such as blood pressure and diabetes, and many cancer screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies. Finally, and not to be overlooked in a nation where more students die at school from gun violence than American service members die fighting the war against terror, the ACA includes treatment for depression and alcohol abuse.
Lastly, despite the president’s hogwash about disastrous Obamacare collapsing on itself and bankrupting America, the ACA is stable and slowing the rate of healthcare cost increases at a rate even better than initially projected. But once again, don’t take just anyone’s word for it, take the Trump Administration’s (this goes for you, too, Mr. President.) According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the rate of overall increase for the decade of the 2010s is the lowest since we started keeping statistics in 1960. Further, as Fortune notes, “total Medicare spending between 2014 and 2019 would be $455 billion lower than the ACA baseline forecast. Projected Medicaid spending over the same time period is expected to be $1.05 billion lower than previous ACA estimates, while private insurance spending projections declined by $664 billion.”
So, to recap for those voting this fall, does the ACA expand insurance coverage to more Americans? Check. Does the ACA increase the services required through coverage? Check. Is the ACA slowing the increase of healthcare costs? Check. Given these facts, why on Earth isn’t the Democratic Party running with the ACA at the center of its midterm election strategy? The Democrats’ decision to run away from the Affordable Care Act rather than run on it is the equivalent of political malpractice. Much as environmental regulations are repealed as they fall victim to their own effectiveness, the ACA has fallen victim to the fact that we don’t remember how bad things were before it. The historic accomplishments of the ACA are now the new normal in American healthcare. If the Democratic Party is going to convince the American people that its vision is better this fall, what better place to start than with celebrating its greatest success: the Affordable Care Act.
Cronrath is a political science professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville.