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Another View: It’s becoming clear – Obamacare is working

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

Despite the treasured right-wing talking points, it’s increasingly clear that Obamacare is a success. Moreover, in places where Obamacare is not succeeding, it’s also clear that the right wing is to blame. Well, it’s clear to any who look at the state-by-state numbers of the newly insured. A whole lot of Americans will have to look, however, for the program’s success to contribute to Democrats’ advantage.

Charles Gaba, an enterprising website designer, has taken it upon himself to track the number of Americans who have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Tallying those who have signed up on the state and federal exchanges (2.1 million), those who have obtained Medicaid coverage (4.4 million) and those who gained coverage through the law’s requirement that private plans allow parents to cover their children up to age 26 (3.1 million), he cites more than 9 million newly insured through Obamacare.

The meaning of that number is, to be sure, a little fuzzy. To begin, it’s a gross, not a net, increase. Some of the 2.1 million who purchased insurance on exchanges did so after their previous plans were altered or canceled. In some states, the increase in those insured through Medicaid does not distinguish between those not eligible previously and those who are simply renewing coverage.

All that said, whether the total is 9 million or 7 million, it’s a big number and it’s rising rapidly – December sign-ups far exceeded those in November, and the number is expected to continue growing through 2014.

Whether you can access the benefits of the ACA, however, depends on where you live. In states that set up their own exchanges and accepted federal funding for Medicaid expansion, the increase in the number of insured vastly exceeds that in states that declined to do either.

Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor of government and sociology, has compared state totals of those who gained insurance through the exchanges and Medicaid with Congressional Budget Office projections of the number of enrollees in each state for the first year the ACA is in effect, as well as with the Kaiser Medicaid Commission’s projections of new Medicaid recipients in that first year.

In the three months since the exchanges opened, she wrote this week, the 14 states that established their own exchanges and accepted Medicaid funding reported increases amounting to 37.2 percent of the projected yearly exchange purchases and 42.9 percent of the projected Medicaid enrollments. In the 23 states that refused to establish insurance exchanges, refused to cooperate in making the federal website easily accessible and declined to expand Medicaid, exchange purchases were just 5.6 percent of the projected increase and Medicaid enrollments just 1.5 percent.

Which is to say, the ACA is working as planned, perhaps a little better, in the states where governors and legislatures chose to implement it, such as California and New York. It is barely working in those states where governors and legislators have refused to implement it, such as Texas.

The conservative argument that the ACA is a disaster is true only when it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only by publicizing the act’s manifest success in states where it has been implemented can supporters begin to change the public’s verdict.

• Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect.

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