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Originally published Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 8:46 PM

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Fury over Obamacare should be redirected into ‘fix-it’ campaign

The enrollment surge in Obamacare suggests a chance to move past all the hostility and fix, not nix, the health-care law.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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To the fellow who phoned offering to perform a colonoscopy-type procedure on me with a rolled-up Obamacare policy: No thanks. I turn 50 next year so I’m due for that bit of unpleasantness already.

But I have to ask: Why so riled up?

When I wrote Sunday that, warts and all, Obamacare “may have already brought the biggest increase in health coverage” in 50 years, I knew that any mention of success for this program would irk some readers.

But the hostility in some quarters continues to amaze. It’s just health insurance we’re talking about!

“You’re an enabler of the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people,” one reader wrote to me.

“If you can’t see how devastating Obamacare is then you’re no journalist,” said another. “You’re Obama’s water boy.”

Some of the more withering comments came from the left.

“This is just perpetuating a system where insurance companies pay outlandish salaries to their CEOs,” said one. “It’s nothing but an extension of Reaganism.”

Whatever it is, with 7.1 million signing up for private insurance on the Obamacare exchanges and another 5 million in the Medicaid program for the poor, the Affordable Care Act has, definitively, put the first real dent in the number of uninsured in this country in decades.

A Rand study estimates that 9.5 million previously uninsured people have now gained medical coverage.

There have been costs to that (more on those in a minute). But it’s generally good news, right? Obama himself wondered about the intensity of opposition when he announced the enrollment surge: “I don’t get it,” he said. “Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance?”

The irony is that the repeal-at-all-costs movement has long been getting in the way of fixing the real flaws with Obamacare.

Because it’s true — some people have gotten a raw deal. I can completely understand the angst of the man who called me to say his insurance premiums rose by half while his regular hospital is no longer in his network. That’s paying more for less. Why wouldn’t he be vexed?

Or the woman who said, “I couldn’t afford health care and I still can’t, only now I also have to pay a fine.”

What ought to make people really angry is that Congress could fix these problems, tomorrow, if it wanted to. Insurance companies could be given more flexibility to provide a wider range of policies, from cheap to rich. There are tinkering proposals like this in Congress already — including some from Democrats — but they go nowhere.

Why? Because Republicans are hellbent to destroy the law (the House has now voted 50 times to either repeal or gut it.) Democrats, intimidated by that zeal as usual, have gone into a defensive crouch. So nothing happens.

The enrollment boom suggests it’s time for a change in this pitched fight. With 12 million on board (15 million if you count young adults on their parents’ policies), Obamacare obviously isn’t going away. All those people pushed through incompetence, technological screw-ups and in some states the damnable opposition of their own elected leaders to get medical coverage. That won’t be lightly taken away.

I see that two local congressmen, Dave Reichert, a Republican, and Derek Kilmer, a Democrat, are appearing at a Seattle CityClub luncheon in a few weeks to discuss the topic of “putting partisanship aside and the people first.”

How about doing it instead? Reichert, you could stand up at this luncheon and relent on your party’s four-year jihad to repeal Obamacare. “I don’t support Obamacare,” you could say, “but 15 million can’t be ignored. It’s fix it, don’t nix it.”

Then Kilmer, you could join Reichert in proposing much-needed tweaks to the law.

I know, that’s not so much a dream as it is a crazed, fevered vision. But it sure beats listening to my voice mail, where who knows what I’ll be offered now.

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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