Our Views: Bumpy start for Obamacare

In an age of e-commerce wonders over the Internet, President Barack Obama’s signature achievement has dragged itself gracelessly across its first finish line. As a lesson in poor customer service, Obamacare will live through the ages. As a practical political matter, at least for the next few years, it is a new — and hopefully more customer-friendly — feature of the health care landscape. Kathleen Sebelius, who fielded much of the blame for problems in the Obamacare rollout, is resigning as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the White House said on Thursday.

Republicans continue to oppose the whole idea of the Affordable Care Act. “House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

But with Obama in office into January 2017, the prospects of repeal are very limited, if not about zero.

Will the ACA work? For the short term, because of a surge of enrollment at the March 31 deadline, its supporters feel more optimistic.

In Louisiana, where the state refused to participate with an online marketplace for insurance, those helping consumers with the federal exchange reported a brisk business, from the Vietnamese community in New Orleans in need of translators to volunteer “navigators” booked solid in Shreveport and Monroe. Yet most respondents to a Louisiana survey by LSU’s Public Policy Lab disapproved of “Obamacare.”

“There are uncertainties ahead,” Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation told The New Republic, “but it’s hard to deny at this point that the law can work and that many people are benefiting from it, both those who were uninsured before and those that already had coverage.”

While much attention has focused on the online “marketplaces” where people signed up for more affordable individual and family policies, that is only a small part of the overall market; until Obamacare, individual policies were unaffordable for the middle class in most cases.

There are clearly some gains for consumers in protections — guaranteeing coverage, ending limits on coverage for the most expensive illnesses. At the same time, insurers have raised deductibles, so that insurance doesn’t kick in until many families have paid out a lot more. No one can predict if all these costs and premiums will work out on insurers’ balance sheets.

Expansion of Medicaid coverage for the working poor remains a live issue in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have blocked new benefits. Our state has among the worst coverage rules in the nation, although some of the benefits provided are better than in some other states.

Still, whatever success the backers of Obamacare can claim — and Obama is never one to hide his achievements under a basket — the people who labor in low-wage jobs in Louisiana won’t get any significant ACA benefit unless Jindal and lawmakers change their minds and accept a good deal for those families.