It's all over, Obamacare haters! Why they've officially lost the battle

With success stories, over 7 million sign-ups and a shift in public opinion, it's time for the right's white flag

Published April 1, 2014 1:44PM (EDT)

Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann                                            (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Kevin Lamarque/AP/Paul Sancya)
Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Kevin Lamarque/AP/Paul Sancya)

By 11:59:59 p.m. Monday night -- the last moment of the Affordable Care Act's first open enrollment period -- sign-ups on and 14 state-based exchanges had cleared the symbolic 7 million threshold, according to both administration officials and data experts, and will continue to climb above it over the next few weeks as HHS processes applications from people who were mid-queue when the clock struck midnight.

Throw in new Medicaid enrollments, off-exchange enrollments into Qualified Health Plans, young invincibles on their parents' plans, and the beneficiary total far exceeds 10 million. On net, millions more people -- perhaps about 10 million -- are now (or will soon be) insured because of Obamacare than were covered beforehand. That net number will probably be less than initially forecast, but when you account for the fact that almost half of all states didn't expand Medicaid, and effectively experienced a two-month outage last year, you have to be a fanatical Obamacare hater not to call it a comeback.

Now that it's all over but the shouting, conservatives are watching the mechanisms they've employed to discredit enrollment numbers shrink away from them. They are left to think wishfully that the new enrollees will not pay their premiums in overwhelming numbers, or deny that they exist altogether. The universe of Obamacare "success stories" is larger than the universe of Obamacare "horror stories" and many of said horror stories fall apart or are revealed to be ambiguous upon mild scrutiny.

The latest comes -- again! -- from Michigan, where Americans for Prosperity has been airing attack ad after attack ad against Rep. Gary Peters, who's running for an open Senate seat against Republican Terri Lynn Land. Here's their latest:

This segment contains virtually no details, and AFP has declined to provide documentation to support the claim that Obamacare is unaffordable for the Wendt family, because, according to an impressively audacious spokesman, "that's not what the ad is about."

But the claim is false. Based on previous public attestations, it was already pretty clear that the Wendts could save a save a significant amount of money by enrolling their children in CHIP, or come out close to even by enrolling everyone in a QHP. and obtaining subsidies. But then this weekend, Shannon Wendt told MLive that after a closer look it turns out her family qualifies for Healthy Michigan -- the nearly free expanded Medicaid program -- instead. That program launches today.

A couple of notes on this. First, I think it's reasonable for a family to be annoyed or unhappy about losing an insurance plan they were satisfied with, and having little choice but to transition on to Medicaid. You could say a lot of things about that but "unaffordable" isn't one of them.

Second, that program wasn't available on Jan. 1 because Republicans in the state Legislature didn't want it to be. But that would have saved eligible families a lot of money or worry or both over the first months of the year.

But the most amazing part of this story is that AFP -- the group that produced the ad -- organized aggressively against the Medicaid expansion in Michigan, and attacked Republicans who helped enact it.

"Expanding Medicaid was a key component of Obamacare and eight GOP lawmakers assisted with the implementation," AFP Michigan lamented last September. "Michigan will be the 25th state to expand Medicaid; 21 states have refused."

Obamacare isn't unaffordable for the Wendts, but if their supposed allies at AFP had their way, it might be.

It's not that unalloyed horror stories don't exist. But they're not nearly as numerous as the law's critics want you to believe. According to new Rand Corp. data, fewer than a million people whose policies were canceled last year are now uninsured under Obamacare. That number is dwarfed by new enrollments. And that might explain why Obamacare's public opinion deficit is narrowing and -- in at least one poll, if you can even believe it -- has disappeared altogether.

AFP's goal was to exacerbate problems with Obamacare and use those problems in ads designed to defeat Democrats and thus repeal the law. That was probably never going to happen anyhow, but it certainly won't now. They might defeat some Democrats, but in their grander purpose, they have failed.

If conservatives can plod through the five stages of grief over these developments they'll not only have to come to terms with larger enrollment figures than they believed possible, but that the Affordable Care Act is basically working as intended.

Two months ago, Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle participated in a debate over the law, and argued for the proposition that Obamacare was "beyond rescue." This week, she ponders, "Is Obamacare beyond repeal?"

She sees the writing on the wall, but can't quite bring herself to read it aloud. "Does [an enrollment spike] mean that Obamacare will basically be beyond repeal, as its supporters hope?" she asks. "It certainly makes things harder."

Yes it does.

By Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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