Commentary & Opinion
3:50 pm
Mon October 28, 2013

Blair Horner: Affordable Care Act Moves Front And Center, And Takes A Beating

Today commentator Blair Horner of NYPIRG compares the federal healthcare program with the exchange in New York.

Once the antics ended over the shutdown of the federal government and a possible national default, all eyes focused on the implementation of the federal health care reform law; the Affordable Care Act.

And the picture has been ugly.

Media reports on the rollout of the federal health law, known as Obamacare, have focused extensively on the website through which many Americans would shop to purchase required health insurance.  The website has been widely criticized as being riddled with error messages, long delays and bugs.

Last week the Obama Administration unveiled its plans to fix the site, www.healthcare.gov, by the end of November,  Given that the federal health exchange website operates in 36 states, there are many people hoping that the Administration succeeds.

In New York State, the situation is different.  The Cuomo Administration decided early on that it wanted to set up a New York-specific exchange.  As a result, the problems plaguing the Obama Administration have not had much impact here.

Last week, the Cuomo administration announced that more than 37,000 New Yorkers have signed up for the federal health care law.  New York State’s health exchange website can be found at www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov.

The health exchange is the marketplace at which uninsured consumers and small businesses can shop for affordable health coverage.

The New York State health exchange reports that 174,000 people have completed the application process, the first step in signing up for medical care.  Of those, 37,000 have enrolled for health insurance.  Of that group, nearly 24,000 received coverage through Medicaid, the public health-insurance program for the needy that is 100 percent taxpayer subsidized.  The remaining 13,000 bought regular commercial insurance.

Other states have had similar enrollments.  In Washington state and Minnesota, 90 percent of new enrollees in those states’ health exchanges signed up for Medicaid.

The number of new New York State Medicaid enrollees should not be unexpected.  According to outside experts, such as the New York Health Foundation, as many as 1 million New Yorkers are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled.  Starting January 1st, virtually all Americans will be required to have health insurance.  As the nation moves to that deadline, more and more Medicaid-eligible – but not yet enrolled – Americans will sign up for Medicaid coverage.

But the efforts in New York are impressive.  The Cuomo Administration said New York represents about 30 percent of all applications nationwide for the health exchanges.

The first month of Obamacare in New York has gone relatively well – at least compared with the rest of the nation.  But New York has about 2.3 million residents without health insurance and roughly half of them are expected to sign up for coverage.

If the state is going to enroll over 1 million people, 37,000 is a good first step.  But there is still a long way to go.

For opponents of providing health insurance, the website failures of Obamacare have offered them new ammunition.  For many opponents, opposing the President’s signature domestic achievement is really what matters, for them the suffering of the uninsured is collateral damage in their ideological fight.  Others view the uninsured as undeserving.  Others have policy differences.

Yet, opponents offer nothing as an alternative.  For the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance, the fight over Obamacare is a matter of life and death.  The ideologically driven efforts to block implementation of the federal law, the creation of budgetary obstacles, the endless sniping results in needless suffering, illness and death for those without health insurance.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.  Here’s hoping that the Cuomo and Obama Administrations are able to help make the nation healthier by providing affordable quality health coverage.

That’s all for now.  I’ll be keeping an eye on the Capitol and will talk to you again next week.

Blair Horner is the LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP.

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