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Originally published Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 9:16 PM

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Obamacare is here, GOP, ready or not

As the GOP roots for failure, Obamacare goes from caricature to fact.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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The other day as GOP spokeswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane was on cable flailing away at Obamacare again — “People are panicked,” she said, “the wheels are falling off!” — it turned out people really were a little panicked.

To get in on it.

“Obamacare does not, in any terms, know how to serve patients,” the Washington state Republican Party tweeted out, tartly, a scant eight hours into Obamacare’s rollout when the state’s health-care website had crashed.

Only now we know what was really going on. More than 9,400 Washington state residents enrolled in the first days, most of whom were previously uninsured. Another 10,500 people completed applications to buy private insurance policies, but haven’t yet paid for it (the plans don’t start until Jan. 1 so there’s no need to pay yet.)

Another 19,000 created accounts as a prelude to buying health insurance.

That was in the first six days. This week, traffic to the online exchange, wahealthplanfinder.org, has only increased, said the exchange’s spokesman, Michael Marchand. Call volume Monday and Tuesday was five times what was expected.

“It’s picking up, not slowing down,” he said. “The interest level has been remarkable.”

Is everybody happy? No. Some are seeing premium increases. Others are baffled at comparing dozens of insurance policies. Still others just want some bleeping customer service.

“I call and I’m on hold for an hour,” one reader, Steve from Camano Island, told me on Tuesday. “Then they come on and can’t answer my questions. They say they’ll call back, and then they don’t. It’s been a struggle so far.”

Slowbamacare, it’s been nicknamed, due to the glitchy rollout.

Still, New York has enrolled more than 40,000, California 28,699 and the red state of Kentucky 17,300. Republicans insist the law is so hurtful to Americans that the GOP has shut down the federal government in protest. It seems to be a pain that some Americans relish.

Here in this Washington, within a week or two the number of enrollees is going to make it untenable for our Republicans to continue to try to repeal this law.

People here are signing up at a rate of 3,000 or 4,000 per day. By the end of the week the state will be at 40,000 total and partial enrollees. By next week it will be 60,000 or more.

Republicans will no longer be fighting a specter. They’ll be arguing to strip insurance away from tens of thousands of their own constituents — many of whom just got it for the first time. I think that’s why Republicans sound, lately, as if they’re rooting for failure. Every stumble on the path to insuring people is cheered. In part, they genuinely believe it’s a bad plan. But they’ve invested so heavily in its failure, pushing the country to the brink of a default, that perversely the worst that could happen is if it succeeds and everyone gets health insurance.

The shame of all this is that parts of health reform should be amended. Rational people would tweak it — adding cheaper, bare-bones insurance to the mix, for example. But rational isn’t in charge of the U.S. House at the moment. You can’t even debate this stuff when one party is looking only to slash and burn.

Ten thousand enrollees in this state, soon to be 20,000, then 40,000 — Obamacare is going from caricature to fact. Unlike a week ago, repealing it today means looking some constituents in the eye and saying: That security you just got? Sorry. We’re taking it back.

There is panicking going on about this. But I don’t think most of it is from the people.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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