Obamacare: One Blind Bet After Another

Both sides sure to claim victory

Back in 1971, a racehorse named Canonero II surprised the racing world by winning the Kentucky Derby.

Before the race, few were even talking about Canonero II. A few so-called experts suggested he might have an outside chance because he'd been racing in Venezuela. At times racehorses do well in the states shortly after being shipped in from South America because the altitude change can have a positive effect.

On Derby day, there was nothing in the Daily Racing Form to suggest that Canonero II should be considered anything but a long shot. There was literally no data on Canonero II because the information on his recent races in South America hadn't yet arrived in the states. The lines for Canonero II in the Daily Racing Form simply stated: “Not Available.”

After the race, when the missing facts finally arrived, they showed that Canonero II had successfully competed against strong competition. At that point the horse's Derby victory made perfect sense. But of course the late information was of no use to anyone after the race.

There's a parallel with Obamacare. All along, its supporters have been making a blind bet based primarily on a general attitude rather than solid information. That's how the parameters of the issue have been drawn and, sadly, the debate over Obamacare seems destined to continue on that basis.

Key data on the costs individuals will face under Obamacare remains unavailable. Without real numbers to crunch, the public is left with nothing more than propaganda that's based on anecdotal examples.

Remember the assertion former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, made regarding Obamacare when Congress was wrestling with the legislation: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it away from the controversy.”

As audacious as that statement was, perhaps its most ludicrous aspect was the premise that we would ever be “away from the controversy.”

Many believed that as Obamacare approached, some good, hard numbers would emerge revealing what it would cost people. But that's not what's happening. The only way to get “the big picture” on who and how many will really benefit from Obamacare and who and how many will be hurt, is by crunching the overall numbers. Yet, there aren't overall numbers to crunch.

That leaves the public right where it has been all along — stuck with the propaganda and its own interpretations of what's really going on.

We're already seeing individual testimonials from people who claim: “It was easy; I signed up for coverage that only costs me $11 a month.” Against that, there are the repeated reports from businesses saying that they're facing huge increases in the costs of their health insurance premiums.

The point is that anyone who is expecting a definitive, “Obamacare is working” or “Obamacare is failing,” verdict before the 2014 election will almost surely be disappointed. Meanwhile, both sides will undoubtedly claim that “the verdict is in” and they were right all along.

It could come down to individual perceptions. Then there's the question of whether the sum total of all of the perceptions will even matter. After all, Obamacare passed without ever having the support of a majority of the voters.

From the moment Obamacare passed, the nation has been witness to one blind bet after another. Would the backlash against President Obama in 2010 drive a stake in its heart and kill Obamacare? No, that effort fell short. Would voters remove Obama from office in 2012 and get the law repealed? No, that didn't happen either.

Now opponents of Obamacare are betting on a renewed backlash in 2014. It's a slim chance. On the other hand, sometimes what seems like a slim chance can pay off. After all, Canonero II won the 1971 Kentucky Derby.

(Editor’s Note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential. He is a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not represent viewpoints of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)