What were the takeaway headlines this week about the Affordable Care Act? That more than 7 million Americans signed up for health insurance, beating the estimate made by the Congressional Budget Office for the legislation’s first major deadline? Or that the Web site was back to frustrating potential customers?
The recurrence of sign-up site delays was more fodder for Republican critics. But to the extent that the delays were triggered by high demand, the bigger news is the goal was reached and exceeded.
High demand was not what these critics predicted. Their narrative from the beginning has been that Americans hate Obamacare. How does that square with millions of people signing up? It doesn’t.
Some skepticism about the 7.1 million figure is justified. Not enough is known about the age and circumstances of the Americans who began signing up by the deadline, and whether they will complete the process and pay up. But the late surge has nevertheless been strong — contrary to all expectations, including those of the CBO and its revised estimate of 6 million customers.
In addition to those who are logging on in the government marketplace, millions more are seeking insurance under the law through private companies or Medicaid. One estimate from the nonpartisan RAND Corp. puts the number of newly insured people at as many as 9.8 million.
President Obama understandably treated the news as a victory, and took the opportunity to stress the virtues of the legislation and question the motives of its detractors. Yet this is only one hurdle cleared on a long obstacle course.
More open enrollment periods are ahead (the next, for 2015, begins on Nov. 15 this year). The administration also faces practical decisions on implementation, and insurance rates are still in flux.
These factors could yet sink the law, given Republicans’ unwavering opposition. But the political calculus for the moment favors the administration.
In the run-up to the midterm elections, it’s hard to keep peddling a health-care horror story when the reality of millions of sign-ups tells a tale that is more persuasive than random opinion polls about how ordinary Americans feel.