Stuck in the first stage of grief

Updated
At a press conference last week, President Obama announced a figure that was hard to even imagine a month ago: 8 million consumers signed up for private insurance through exchange marketplaces during the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period. Obama also took a moment to chide Republicans for having been wrong about practically every aspect of the debate.
 
“I recognize that their party is going through the stages of grief,” he said, “and we’re not at acceptance yet.” 
 
That sounds about right, though I’m not sure the GOP is “going through the stages of grief” so much as it’s stuck on the first one. If the process is believed to have five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – we have quite a ways to go before “acceptance” is even on the horizon.
 
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said Monday he believes the uninsured rate in his state has increased since implementation of the 2010 health care reform law.
 
“It’s hard to get accurate numbers on anything,” Huelskamp told his constituents at a town hall in Salina, Kan., according to video posted by Eagle Community Television. “But the numbers we see today is that – as I understand them – we believe there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president’s health care plan went into effect. And I thought the goal was to bring more people into insurance.”
There are a wide variety of counts when it comes to determining just how many uninsured Americans have been able to get coverage, but all of the reports have something important in common: they all show the rate of the uninsured going down, not up. We can discuss exactly how many, whether that’s in line with expectations, whether that’s enough to sustain the larger system, and why progress is happening faster in blue states than red states.
 
But to argue that the number of uninsured people is climbing is comparable to arguing that the federal budget deficit is getting larger; the planet is experiencing global cooling; and Obama has pushed use of executive orders to new heights.
 
Oh wait, conservative Republicans often believe all of those bogus claims, too.
 
Obviously, the problem isn’t limited to Huelskamp. On Friday, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he doesn’t believe the Obama administration’s enrollment totals, calling the figures “all smoke and mirrors.” On Thursday, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested consumers receiving ACA subsidies to defray the costs of coverage may be engaged in “fraud.”
 
Much of the Republican establishment quickly embraced the “cooking the books” conspiracy theory, which was soon after followed by the Census Bureau conspiracy theory.
 
The right doesn’t bother with evidence to bolster any of this – evidence is irrelevant. Denial isn’t about rationality; it’s about reflexively making one feel better about a reality that’s causing them pain.
 
That said, GOP officials aren’t just embracing denial, they’re swimming in it in the most self-indulgent fashion possible. Republicans almost seem to be enjoying their distaste for health care reality, seemingly eager to one up their far-right colleagues.
 
Let’s also not brush past the “heads I win, tails you lose” problem – “Obamacare” critics believe the numbers are correct and reliable when they point to facts Republicans want to hear. Enrollment totals are low? This is proof that conservatives were right all along and that the ACA is a failure. Enrollment totals soared in March? This is proof that the White House is perpetrating a fraud – because conservatives were right all along and that the ACA is a failure.
 
It’s become effectively impossible under conditions like these for the two sides to even have a conversation about health policy. Paul Krugman’s take over the weekend rings true:
Not a day goes by without some prominent Republican politician or pundit insisting that the enrollment numbers are phony, that more people are losing insurance than gaining it, etc.. I know that’s what the base believes, because it’s what they hear from Rush and Fox. But you would think that important people would have someone around who has a clue, who knows that enrollment data and multiple surveys are all telling the same story of unexpected success. OK, maybe not – if famous senators don’t have anyone to clue them in about BLS data, they might really still be living in the bubble. But that’s really their choice.
 
And the point is that with enrollment more or less closed for 2014, there’s not much point in spinning. OK, maybe if you can keep up the pretense all the way to November, you can slightly sway base voters for the midterms. But even that’s doubtful – by the fall, we’re going to have a very clear picture of how things went; and the shape of that picture has already been determined.
 
I guess that what gets me is the – to use the technical term – wussiness of it all. Isn’t there any space on the right for people who sell themselves as tough-minded, who condemn Obamacare on principle but warn their followers that it’s not on the verge of collapse? Is the whole party so insecure, so unable to handle the truth, that it automatically shoots anyone bearing bad news?
I’m going to assume those are rhetorical questions, because the answer seems pretty obvious.
 

Affordable Care Act, Obamacare and Tim Huelskamp

Stuck in the first stage of grief

Updated