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Diagnose Obamacare right before prescribing cure

(From left) Jim Duffett executive director Campaign for Better Health Care Anne Filipic president Enroll AmericDave Elstate director Enroll Americdiscuss

(From left) Jim Duffett, executive director of Campaign for Better Health Care, Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America and Dave Elin, state director of Enroll America discuss the Affordable Care Act with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: November 28, 2013 6:43AM

Other than its gremlin-infested website, everything about Obamacare is working “great,” former White House health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel said on the radio the other day.

Emanuel, who happens to be the Chicago mayor’s brother, was talking through his hat.

But, then again, so is every outraged Obamacare critic who points to this poor fellow who lost his employee insurance or that poor woman who lost her family doctor.

Everybody is waging war by anecdote — some true tales, some whoppers — because that’s all anybody’s got. Blind boosterism clashes with knee-jerk naysaying.

Truth is, the Affordable Care Act’s federal website is so miserably dysfunctional that nobody really knows how successful — or what an abject failure — Obamacare will be once millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans can get online, sort out their options without getting a headache and make their decisions.

Judging Obamacare will take patience, yet we are reminded of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s facetious campaign cheer: “What do we want? Patience! When do we want it? Now!”

All that said, it would be foolish — blind boosterism at its worst — to ignore some early warning signs:

† Inadequacies of the federal website could deter enrollment by young, healthy people, whose participation is crucial for the program to work.

† In some communities, particularly rural areas, plans offered by insurance companies might not be attractive enough to persuade people to enroll, either because costs are too high or provider networks are too restricted.

† Some folks are complaining they will lose insurance through their employers.

† Illinois never set up its own state insurance marketplace and now is at the mercy of the screwed-up federal website. Also, Illinois needs a system in place to review insurance rates, as other states are doing.

In Obamacare’s defense, it helps to remember that virtually every major social program in American has suffered a rough rollout. Medicare did. So, more recently, did Medicare Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage. Critics at the time demanded that the plug be pulled. But Medicare and Medicare Part D were fixed and now are popular.

Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, a non-profit whose mission is to sign up as many uninsured Americans as possible, reminded the Sun-Times Editorial Board Friday that only about 18,000 people enrolled in the first two months of Massachusetts’ prototype of Obamacare. The process of educating many people about the most basics things, such as what an insurance premium is, took time. But after the first year, roughly 180,000 people were enrolled.

Worries that young, healthy people are shying away from the Affordable Care Act also might be overblown. In Connecticut, one of the states that set up its own marketplace, a third of those who enrolled in the first 10 days of Obamacare were age 18 through 35.

Since the Affordable Care Act opened for business on Oct. 1, 700,000 people have applied for coverage. It’s worth remembering that the goal of the program was to provide coverage for people who wanted it but couldn’t get it on the private market. And critics who campaigned on “repeal and replace” have yet to offer a better alternative.

Some Democrats in Congress and most Republicans are calling for a one-year delay in the requirement that individuals sign up for health insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty. That’s jumping the gun.

In a couple of more months, we’ll all know better whether the Obama adminstration has fixed that confounded website and the program is moving along nicely, or big fixes are needed and deadlines should be pushed back.

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