When President Barack Obama signed the $938 billion health care reform bill into law a year ago today, it capped a long march by advocates that began in this country years before Medicare was approved in 1965.
Obama’s signature legislative achievement avoided a health care system run entirely by the government, which was the goal of national union leaders and liberal politicians such as Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa. But it mandated by 2014 the transfer of one-fifth of the national economy from the private sector to the government.
So even if Obamacare isn’t quite the perfect replication of the British National Health Service romanticized by Donald Berwick, the man in charge of managing Obamacare, it is still a government-directed health care system with roots deep in the European welfare states of Britain, France, Sweden and Germany.
Less than half of Americans supported Obamacare a year ago when it became law. Against that backdrop, Obama and his congressional Democratic allies, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, promised that it would grow in public acceptance as people learned more about the law. It would then join Social Security and Medicare as fixtures on the third rail of American politics.
Obama criticized opponents who predicted dire consequences from the law, saying, “I heard one of the Republican leaders say this was going to be Armageddon. Well, two months from now, six months from now, you can check it out. We’ll look around and we’ll see.”
Well, here we are a dozen months later and things certainly have changed, though not the way Obamacare’s supporters hoped.
For one thing, solid majorities of the public favor repeal of Obamacare, which helps explain why Pelosi — who famously said Congress had to pass Obamacare so the American people could find out what it contained — no longer commands a Democratic House majority. Running with repeal of Obamacare among their most visible promises in 2010, Republicans enjoyed their biggest congressional victory since 1938, picking up 63 House seats and replacing Pelosi with John Boehner as speaker.
On the legal front, 26 states have joined in two separate lawsuits seeking to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional. Two federal courts have agreed with them, with one of the two jurists challenging the Justice Department to request an expedited appeal that is certain to reach the Supreme Court in the near future. Two other federal judges upheld the law, but neither sought to expedite appeals of their rulings.
But perhaps the most revealing change in the year past is the reaction of the employers who face mandates under Obamacare that impose massive new costs and mountains of red tape. As a result, more than a thousand employers — including Fortune 500 corporations, nonprofits, labor unions and small businesses — have requested and received one-year waivers to buy them time to figure out how to cope with the law’s requirements.
Those demands are so severe that even previously enthusiastic Obamacare advocates in the business community, such as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, are stepping back.
“I think as the bill is currently written and if it was going to land in 2014 under the current guidelines, the pressure on small businesses, because of the mandate, is too great,” Schultz recently told The Seattle Times.
Yes, Mr. President, we do see.