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5 Obamacare disasters that haven’t happened

Rick Newman
The Exchange
Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California March 27, 2014. More than 6 million people have now signed up for private insurance plans under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law known as Obamacare, reflecting a surge in enrollments days before the March 31 deadline, the White House said on Thursday. More than 1 million people have signed up for Obamacare in California, according to the Los Angeles Times. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: HEALTH POLITICS)

You know just about everything that went wrong with Obamacare during its first six months. In fact, it’s hard to think of a public program that has ever generated worse headlines.

A brief recap: The Obamacare website, which was built on the cheap with paper clips and rubber bands, sputtered right up through March 31, the last official day of open enrollment. President Obama’s claim that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it earned him the Politifact Lie of the Year award. And the White House postponed so many Obamacare deadlines that inside the Beltway, stores ran out of whiteboard erasers.

Yet lo and behold, the White House now says total enrollments for the ACA’s first year have hit 7.1 million, which was roughly the original expectation, before the website went kerflooey. That's a come-from behind victory for the Obama administration. "As messy as it's been sometimes, the Affordable Care Act is progress," Obama said after enrollments were tallied. "This law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's helping people from coast to coast."

In addition to that, some of the scariest-sounding predictions about Obamacare haven’t materialized at all. Here are five Obamacare disasters that haven’t happened:

Death panels. Sarah Palin and others warned the ACA would include government-controlled “death panels” that would ration care, effectively deciding who qualifies for life-saving treatment and who doesn't. That was never part of the law and nothing like it is in effect. While the government, under the ACA, provides subsidies and tax credits and helps [wink wink] with enrollment, all insurance is provided by nonprofit and private-sector firms, just as before the law. They have their own rules governing what’s covered, based on the type of policy — but that has always been the case.

Mass layoffs. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others warned that many firms — especially small and medium-sized businesses  — would be forced to slash payrolls on account of the ACA. That hasn’t happened. The economy has added nearly 900,000 jobs since the ACA went info effect, and small-business optimism has improved substantially. Back in February, ACA critics waved around a Congressional Budget Office report estimating the law would reduce employment by about 2 million people during the next 3 years; but rather than "killing jobs," the CBO itself pointed out that the law would allow people working mainly to obtain healthcare benefits to quit their jobs.

Meanwhile, it’s true that penalties for employers that don’t comply with the ACA have been delayed until 2015, but those don’t apply to firms with fewer than 50 employees, and so far there are no major signs that bigger firms will axe workers. It will probably happen in a few cases — especially at firms right around the 50-worker threshold — but overall, economists expect job growth to pick up in 2015 and beyond.

Part-timer nation. Another concern has been companies replacing full-time workers with part-timers, to skirt ACA requirements that mostly relate to full-time workers. That hasn’t happened either. The full-time workforce has increased by 936,000 since the ACA went into effect, while the number of part-time workers has fallen by 91,000. It’s still plausible some firms will replace full-timers with part-timers as the 2015 deadline approaches, but there are business reasons not to do that and other economic trends may simply be more powerful than incentives generated by Obamacare.

Skyrocketing health costs. Sort the data in such and such a way, and you can find instances where insurance premiums or overall healthcare costs seem to have skyrocketed since the ACA became law in 2010. But in general, there’s been a surprising slowdown in the rise of insurance and healthcare costs during the last few years. The annual premium for a typical family plan rose by 13% per year from 1999 to 2013, on average, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But from 2012 to 2013, premiums rose by only 4%. Data from Standard & Poor’s shows that overall medical costs have been rising at a smaller rate as well since at least 2010. It’s probably not accurate to claim Obamacare is responsible for those improvements, since it could mostly be due to pinched consumers spending more carefully or other factors. But it is does seem clear Obamacare has not pushed costs up.

The total collapse of American society. Rush Limbaugh predicted Obamacare would boost the divorce rate. Other fears include government agents snooping on your sex life, showing up at your home for unannounced inspections and imposing a whole range of unadvertised new taxes. Nobody would be able to see an actual doctor any more, and America as a whole would end up as a failed socialist state.

None of those things has occurred or is in the works. Mayhem may still be possible, for those convinced Obamacare will ruin America. But it seems more likely the nation will just keep on humming.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.