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Clinging stubbornly to the dream of one nation under Obamacare

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The fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty is focusing much attention on the plight of the neediest. Apropos of the trend, it appears that the powers that run the fair-handed Real Clear Politics website have an interest in lending a hand up to the less fortunate among us. How else to explain their fascination with and fairly regular promotion of articles by Salon political writer Brian Beutler.

Beutler’s particular brand of impoverishment, not atypically for liberals, is of the intellectual persuasion, but it’s not just the fatuous tone of his writings that sets them apart but his total refusal to (in the words of “Peter Pan”) grow up.

Take his latest oeuvre titled “Terrible news for Obamacare haters: The law is not going to collapse.” How does he know this? By citing the “facts”:

Of the nearly 2.2 million applicants who enrolled before Jan. 1, 30 percent are under the age of 35 and 24 percent are in the crucial 18-34-year-old age band. These percentages are lower in some states than others, which means some marketplaces face a heavier lift if they hope young people ultimately compose 38 percent of their risk pools by the end of March. And basically marketplaces will be trying to make up some ground in the next two and a half months.

But they almost certainly will. And even if they don’t — even if 2014 enrollees look exactly like 2013 enrollees — the pools are probably already diverse enough to preclude the premium spike, and death spiral, conservatives are hoping for.

The link in the second paragraph is to Ezra Klein, one of Beutler’s go-to guys who can always be counted on to tell it like it is. More important is the claim in the first paragraph that 30% are under age 35. And where does Beutler go for this unimpeachable piece of evidence? Why the White House, which tweeted it yesterday. And, God knows, the White House never lies.

But the problem for those who would wish away all the negative talk about Obamacare is that it, like the law itself, has only just begun. It is easy to wax rhapsodic about all the people who are likely to sign up, but what the people who already have? Our Mr. Beutler is slightly acquainted with the truth, as he demonstrates when he concedes that the administration needs 38% of Millennials to sign up to avert the adverse selection. But he seems ignorant of the reality that 79% of enrollees are people who qualify for a government subsidy. That fact comes from NBC News, a source I suspect Beutler would ordinarily approve of.

Call it a coincidence, but when nearly 4 out of 5 enrollees are on the government dole, it seems fair to say that the law is attracting a disproportionate number of people who know they can get it for free. That doesn’t do much to help the risk pools.

In addition, a fair percentage of young adults signing up are doing so because they’re sick. They have a pre-existing condition, which can no longer be denied by insurers. That’s all well and good, but their participation doesn’t do much to offset the death spiral.

Beutler’s giddiness aside, the current year will reveal a lot about Obamacare’s chances for survival. If insurers discover that they are not succeeding actuarially speaking, many of them may pull out of the marketplace. The administration will be faced with the task of attempting to persuade a Congress, one house of which is under the control of the party excluded from the drafting of the Affordable Care Act, to move toward a single payer system. If that doesn’t happen, Team Obama may need to fold up its tent, whether the Brian Beutlers of the world like it or not.

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