A suggested New Year’s resolution for Republicans: If you don’t like this law, come up with a better idea. Because starting today — the day that Americans can use their new health insurance for the first time — you’ll have a whole new world to reckon with.
Some 2 million people will be getting their health insurance through the exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act and by the end of March, it’s likely to reach at least 8 million. Another 6 million will have coverage under the Medicaid expansion by the New Year. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of votes.
Even if New Year’s Day brings new hiccups, President Obama will have time on his side. Eventually, Republicans who rail against his law will no longer be viewed as protecting Americans from unforeseen consequences. They will be threatening to take away a benefit that millions of people already have.
This new generation will come to expect access to decent health care, regardless of one’s station in life. Politicians who oppose that idea could eventually become as imperiled as those who meddle with Medicare — the so-called “third rail” of American politics.
That is, unless the critics can propose a viable alternative. Therein lies the challenge. As Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) told the New York Times last week, “The hardest problem for us is what to do next.”
“You become a more effective critic when you say, ‘Here’s what I’m for,’ and we’re not there yet,” he said. “So there’s our struggle.”
A minority of Republicans have come around to the idea that they need a plan of their own before the 2014 elections. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is promising his own proposal soon. And Georgia Rep. Tom Price has proposed scrapping the health law but keeping the pre-existing condition requirement.