Updated: November 3, 2013 6:23AM
Neither Obamacare nor the federal government was working Tuesday, but our nation sorely needs both .
Republicans in the House, now held hostage by a small group of Tea Party radicals, really should grow a spine and make that happen.
The federal government is partially shut down because an extreme faction of House Republicans is using its leverage to try to derail the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Meanwhile, websites for new health insurance exchanges that went live Tuesday as part of the Affordable Care Act were overwhelmed at times, struggling with heavy demand. Some websites asked users to try again later in the day; other websites said their systems were running slow or accounts couldn’t be created at that time. More than a million potential Obamacare customers — more than expected — had visited the main federal website before 6 a.m.
But this is bad news with a silver lining: Consumer interest in Obamacare clearly is high.
For the roughly 85 percent of Americans who get their health insurance through work or the government, the arrival of Obamacare exchanges may not seem important, just as those who aren’t directly affected by the government shutdown can yawn at the fact that others can’t visit national parks, are losing their paychecks or are getting voice mail when they call government offices for help.
But for those Americans who until now were shut out of the health insurance market through no fault of their own, Tuesday was a big day. No longer do they have to fear bankruptcy after a lifetime of work because of health and employment factors outside their control — an unnecessarily cruel feature of the system under which the nation has operated.
Of course, parts of the Affordable Care Act are already in place, including allowing people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance and an expansion of prescription-drug discounts. But the health marketplaces that help people buy insurance — the reform that began Tuesday — are the biggest part of the reform. People can apply online, through a call center, in person or by mail.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday, officials had warned of bumps in the road as the new insurance exchanges struggle to deal with waves of new consumers, many of whom don’t have much experience buying insurance. The good news is that the signup period lasts for six months, and those who want insurance by Jan. 1, the first possible date, have until Dec. 15 to sign up. The administration expects 7 million people to sign up in the first year.
With such a big undertaking, our leaders should be doing everything they can to make sure it is a success. Instead, dismayingly, many Republicans are doing their best to make Obamacare fail.
We respect that many of the critics sincerely fear the nation can’t afford Obamacare — unlike the knee-jerk naysayers who simply can’t stand Obama. But for all their talk about replacing the Affordable Care Act, they have never pulled together a workable plan that provides adequate coverage for people who haven’t been able to buy insurance at reasonable rates.
Some in the Tea Party ranks are calling on lawmakers to keep the government shut down until they extract some kind of concessions on Obamacare, as if that’s any way to run a country. Those same people would be outraged if the Democrats shut down the government until, for example, the nation adopted a more pro-gun-control reading of the Second Amendment.
About 800,000 federal workers are being forced off the job, and the repercussions will be felt by many Americans in many ways for a long time to come. A long shutdown could significantly hurt the economy. The shutdown makes America look foolish in the eyes of the rest of the world — because we are behaving foolishly.
Ironically, the Tea Party’s childish temper tantrum — closing down the government in what will ultimately be a futile effort to kill Obamacare — did a pretty good job Tuesday of diverting attention from Obamacare’s stumbling rollout, sparing it a lot of miserable headlines.