First, it's not a "train wreck," no matter how often Republicans repeat the phrase.
"Obamacare" is still on track, if not exactly barreling along ahead of schedule.
The screams you hear aren't from train wreck victims. They come from the same old critics who have been predicting disaster for years, louder now that the Affordable Care Act is finally kicking in.
The Obama administration gave them something extra to shout about by bungling the launch of the federal websites. People have had a hard time creating accounts and there are dire warnings — shouted louder by the same old critics — of deadly problems deep in the software.
But really, can we put this in perspective?
There are many health exchange websites, and some are doing just fine. In states where governors accepted the opportunity to set up their own exchange, there have been fewer problems. But most Republican governors refused to go along, relying on the federal website — healthcare.gov — which has been swamped.
Several bad decisions were made by the administration. They should have had a tech company oversee the multiple contractors working on the site instead of managing the project through Health and Human Services. They should have made it easier for would-be customers to get a quick look at the available plans instead of requiring them to fill out an application first to see what subsidies they qualify for. The feds didn't want people to experience sticker shock before seeing the subsidies, but they got the process backwards.
I've visited the state exchange in Massachusetts: ma.healthconnector.org. Fill in your Zip code, birth date and whether you're a smoker, and it will show you the available plans — with a reminder that you may be eligible for a discount. The site offered me a choice of 80 plans from familiar companies: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Fallon, Tufts, Harvard-Pilgrim and more.
Insurance is complicated, as I'm reminded every time the human resources office sends me an open enrollment package. But the website makes it a little simpler. If Massachusetts and other states can make it work, so can the feds.
More perspective: 85 percent of Americans will continue getting their insurance through their employer or some other private or government program. They don't need Obamacare and won't participate in it.
The administration hopes to get 7 million signed up for insurance through the exchanges by the end of March, a deadline it will surely extend if the site isn't fixed. It's important that enough young and healthy people sign up, because if they don't, insurance companies won't make as much money as they anticipated, and they will set higher rates next time around for policies sold on the exchange.
Page 2 of 2 - There were predictions the rates on the exchanges would be outrageously high the first year, but the bids came in 16 percent lower than projected, though the levels vary by state. It will be a year before we know what the 2015 rates will be, so do we really have to be pulling our hair out over it now?
There are 316 million people living in the United States. That means at least 300 million don't need to worry about suffering the torture of having to buy health insurance through a government website. Maybe all those people who aren't riding the train should stop worrying about a train wreck.
The same old critics are also complaining about policies being changed or canceled and premiums going up. "But Obama promised if we liked our insurance policies and our physicians we could keep them," they cry. Nothing would ever change.
Point taken. Obama oversimplified, especially in campaign speeches. Anyone surprised by that?
But did people really believe that nothing would change? Employers change insurance policies all the time. Deductibles change, premiums are adjusted. Physicians change insurance networks. They retire.
I can understand people being confused, especially considering the misinformation being spread about this program for political purposes. But I knew there was nothing in the ACA that would restrict employers' ability to change insurers, or insurers' right to increase premiums. And I knew that the law, like Romneycare, established minimum coverage standards, which meant some cut-rate insurance policies wouldn't make the grade.
So why the mock outrage among the conservative mouthpieces in Congress and the media? Didn't they bother to read the bill?
Obama came to Faneuil Hall this week to remind people that Obamacare, like Romneycare, can work. Here, a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature worked together to fashion the law and get it through the sometimes rocky path to implementation.
In Massachusetts, they were paying more attention to the World Series than to a presidential visit, but we didn't really need those reassurances. We already have near-universal health care coverage, and no trains were wrecked in the process.
The biggest problem for Obama in taking health care reform national are his political opponents lining the tracks, doing everything they can to derail it.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at email@example.com.