Obamacare rolls out: Five vital signs to watch

Updated
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Even as the government shut down, Obamacare is rolling out.

Three years after President Barack Obama signed his signature achievement into law, millions of Americans will finally be able to sign up online for health insurance.

And it’s sure to be a spectacle. Republicans have challenged the law in court, on the trail and again in the stand-off that led to the government shutdown last night.

Here are five things to watch as the law takes effect:

The website

Democrats intimately involved in Obamacare have said it’s not just a health care achievement–but a technology feat.

The website, https://www.healthcare.gov/, which launched on schedule at midnight, will allow Americans to log on and compare prices of various plans available to them in their states.

Despite the shutdown, the new health insurance marketplace opens for business as planned on October 1. #GetCovered

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 1, 2013

And Speaker Boehner, soon after, tweeted a rebuttal:

Senate Democrats chose to shut down the govt rather than discuss the failures of #ObamaCare http://t.co/et83H7BbO1 #FairnessForAll

— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) October 1, 2013

The big question: will it work? Some reports said there were bugs in the system in the final weeks (as Obama himself warned there would be). If thousands–or millions–hit the site, will hold up?

Republicans will be sure to point out that a failed site means they were right to call for a delay in the law. Democrats will scramble to get it fixed.

The cost

The White House claims health insurance premiums–estimates that came in before the rollout were already lower than expected–will drop further under Obamacare. Republicans say premiums will skyrocket.

In the early days of the rollout, both sides will watch every dollar tick to make their case.

And they may spin the data. Republicans like to point to overall increases in prices, while Democrats point out that healthy young people who once had only meager plans may indeed pay more–but will get more.

Who pays how much will be key to the debate as it rages on.

Will young invincibles sign up?

Making health care work requires that young and healthy Americans sign up for insurance. They make the general pool of the insured lower risk– lowering the overall cost of insurance.

But healthy young people are less likely to say they want insurance at all. Will the White House be able to bring them on board?

Obama said just last week that young people will be able to get insurance for about what they pay for a cell phone each month.

Conservative groups are trying to convince young people it’s a rip off. Why pay for something you might not need? They’ve even aired television ads designed to creep out viewers.

2016 Republican governors

Want to know what the 2016 Republican platform will sound like? Watch what red state governors on the short list say about the new health care law.

Chris Christie has taken a moderate approach to the law, while Rick Perry of Texas has taken a hardline. The contours of their rhetoric will suggest whether Republicans will turn the page on Obamacare in 2016–or still be fighting this battle. If, as the White House has suggested, most Americans will find themselves very happy with the plan, “Obamacare” will cease to be the base-energizing, money-raising issue that’s given Republicans some of their most powerful political fuel.

Watch the ‘spin cycle’

Narrative matters. Both sides will look for the perfect poster child for the law. Will Americans think of the sick person who got the health care she needed, saving her life and her family from bankruptcy? Or will the image that sticks in their minds be the small business owner who struggled to comply?

Watch which image starts to dominate the debate, and whose rhetoric sticks–because that’s what will help determine the future success of the law. In the meantime, though, Obamacare is just that: the law.

Obamacare rolls out: Five vital signs to watch

Updated