If you pick up any newspaper today, you’re likely to find a story about the fact that today is the (somewhat loose) deadline to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The deadline will also be a major topic on cable news, and will probably lead all three network newscasts this evening. There will be some uncertainty and some arguments over what the numbers mean.
But we should mark this day, because barring some kind of unforeseen catastrophe, it’s the last time the ACA will be the lead story everywhere in the media.
Of course, there will be another open enrollment deadline every year, and new insurance policies taking effect every January 1. But today is the last of the law’s key dates, when everyone’s attention turns to it. We had the dreadful opening of healthcare.gov (and the state exchanges) on October 1st, then on January 1st the last round of key provisions took effect, and today open enrollment concludes. And that’s the end of major ACA news events.
That isn’t to say there won’t be more ACA news in the coming months and years, but it won’t all blow in at once. Later this year, insurers will begin to set their premiums for 2015; those premiums will rise, just as they do every year, but the big question is by how much. Starting in the fall, people will begin signing up for insurance that takes effect next January, and the number who do so will be important to track the law’s success in continuing to reduce the ranks of the uninsured. At least some states that have held out on expanding Medicaid will likely give in and allow their poor citizens to get insurance. How the health care system handles all these newly insured people, many of whom have medical issues that they haven’t sought treatment for before, is yet to be seen. Those will all be important stories that deserve attention. But none of them will produce screaming headlines.
That isn’t to say that Republicans will become any less vociferous in their opposition to the law. As Greg noted the other day, polling shows Republicans are the only group of voters that wants repeal — but Republican lawmakers will keep telling their base what it wants to hear. As long as that base is motivated by hatred of the law (and its symbolic value for them as a representation of Barack Obama himself), at least some will keep shaking their fists at it and talking about repeal. And every positive development will be met with assertions that it can’t possibly be true.
Journalists will continue to discuss enrollment numbers as stragglers come in — for a few days or weeks. But before long, political reporters who have been paying attention to health care will go back to their usual beats, and only the wonky health care reporters will continue to discuss the details of the ACA. Sure, Republicans may be able to use the law to get their own voters to the polls this fall, and that is significant, but I’m skeptical it will matter all that much to swing voters. By now, they aren’t going to change how they think about this law, and the opportunity to shift opinions is receding in the rear view mirror. Voters want to move on to other issues. If Republicans do take the Senate, it’s not going to be because Obamacare delivered it to them.