Complicated system could be improved

The Affordable Care Act has commenced – not with actual coverage but with plan signups – and so far it seems like a mess. But the system it’s replacing is a mess, too, and the Republican representatives who’ve voted dozens of times to repeal the ACA haven’t put forward a viable alternative they agree on.

The idea that American health care is fine and doesn’t need fixing doesn’t fly with us. Sure, it’s OK if you make so much money you don’t feel the sting of insurance costs. It’s OK if you get a sweetheart insurance plan from your employer. But if you’re a small business owner, a low- to mid-wage private-sector worker or a student, it’s pretty brutal.

So we’ll try the ACA and see how it goes. Maybe it will be better than what went before. Maybe it will be improved over time. Maybe it will be a stepping stone to a truly better system.

We wish Congress would work on that kind of thing and try to improve the ACA instead of going to the wall with their budget disagreements, causing a partial government shutdown which also began Tuesday. This is a national embarrassment that drags down the United States’ morale, reputation and overall functionality. It’s partisan warfare instead of responsible governance.

Society needs responsible public servants to get to work on ACA 2.0. The current version has so far not slowed the rise of insurance rates, as far as we can see, and is pushing parents to replace their family plans with couples’ coverage and have their kids covered by state plans like New York’s Child Health Plus. It also penalizes businesses for having more than 50 employees, which could stall hiring.

On top of that, it’s so complicated that most people don’t even know where to start. Instead of nicknaming it “Obamacare,” maybe it should be called “Rube Goldberg Care” after the cartoonist known for designing incredibly complex gadgets that accomplish simple tasks.

One way to simplify American health care would be with a public health insurance option – for instance, to extend Medicare to everyone and let Medicaid fill gaps low-income people can’t afford. This would finally take the health insurance cost burden off of employers, public and private, and spread it out among all users and taxpayers. It would not be perfect, but it may ultimately be the best way forward.

However, it would hurt the entrenched health care industry, so in Congress it stands a snowball’s chance in hell.

Therefore, we’re stuck with the ACA, which actually came from Republican ideas – a private-sector-based alternative to liberals’ European-style proposals. Mitt Romney signed something similar into law when he was governor of Massachusetts. Most Republicans have since renounced it, but their efforts to stop it have lost over and over again in Congress.

Killing this law is no longer an option. Extreme obstructionist tactics by conservatives will only make fewer people vote for them and lose them political ground. Ultimately, we think most Americans want elected officials to work realistically for the common good.

We don’t love the Affordable Care Act, but it’s what we have, so let’s give it a chance while working on ideas to improve health care for all.