The Affordable Care Act: The Law Folks Love to Blame

Although not a native of Indiana, as a decades-long resident of the Hoosier State I expended a lot of angst and energy on the brouhaha that took place here a few weeks ago.  I, like many others, saw the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a “make up” gesture to the losing proponents of an Indiana same-sex marriage ban.  According to a blog post on the web site of Advance America, one of the few groups present at Governor Mike Pence’s very private signing of the RFRA, the bill was intended to allow discrimination against the LGBT community based on religious beliefs — thus the outrage from within and outside of Indiana that followed the signing.  However, in a press conference a few days into the fracas, Pence had three major messages: that the law was misunderstood, that he “abhors” discrimination, and that the real culprit behind the RFRA was “Obamacare.”

And there it is.  According to Pence, he signed the law out of concern that the same fate that almost befell Hobby Lobby — losing the right to deny their employees birth control coverage because of an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement — might fall upon Hoosier institutions like the University of Notre Dame, which also is fighting for the right to deny contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.  In her April 2 New York Times column about the Indiana dustup, Gail Collins put Pence’s message in clear perspective.  She wrote, “The Republican establishment expresses dismay at this [discrimination] interpretation, and insists that its only intention was to deprive female residents of the right to get birth control.”

So, while all eyes were on Indiana, and Governor Pence needed to explain his actions, he resorted to a now common scapegoat, the ACA.  Those of us who have been involved in implementing and studying the ACA are, unfortunately, all too familiar with this scenario.  There have been predictions of death panels, “soaring” health insurance premiums, and all manner of horrors that never materialized.  In a February 6, 2014, blogpost for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum wrote that AOL executives had even blamed the ACA for their decision to shortchange employee pension funds.  So, no one should be surprised that a beleaguered Governor would turn to, as Drum called it, “the all-purpose punching bag” in an attempt to get himself out of hot water.

Maybe we should just laugh it off.  In fact, I just learned that there’s a Facebook page called “Funny things people blame on Obamacare.”  Or, maybe we should declare victory and exit the field, because as the invocations of the ACA for explaining sordid activity become more absurd, the evidence that the ACA is succeeding becomes more concrete.  But, as the Indiana incident illustrates, concrete evidence isn’t always enough.  Apparently (and amazingly), the ACA’s role as the law that some folks love to blame has not yet ended its run.

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The opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual blog post authors and do not represent the views of Georgetown University, the Center on Health Insurance Reforms, any organization that the author is affiliated with, or the opinions of any other author who publishes on this blog.