C.V. Allen: Obamacare ‘won’t work’ until it does

There is a story about Robert Fulton, an early inventor, who set out on his first run to test the idea of a steamship that could actually work.

On the shore stood hundreds of people, mostly detractors convinced the whole thing was folly. As the boiler pressure gradually rose and there was no motion, they began to chant, “It’ll never work, it’ll never work.” And as time went by the chants grew louder.

Then slowly the boat began to move. The crowd grew silent, then gradually a new chant arose: “It’ll never stop, it’ll never stop!”

It is inevitable that everything new must pass through the fires of doubt, denigration, ridicule and violent opposition before emerging through the gantlet to the various stages of acceptance (moving from “well, maybe,” to “I suppose so,” to “yes, I can agree to that,” and finally into the sunlight of, “great idea, I was for it all along”).


• Social Security: “Socialism – it will ruin us”

• The airplane: “If God wanted us to fly, he’d given us wings”

• Minimum wage: “Businesses will go broke”

• Medicare: “Socialized medicine!”

Obamacare is many things to many people – the invention of the devil (no), “socialized medicine” (not even close), a financial disaster (maybe yes, maybe no), the ultimate answer to our failing health care system (no way). But mostly it’s a political punching bag for those (usually insured or on Medicare) who see no governmental role in health care.

The present mess – and it is a mess – is more about the rollout and less about the program itself. If Apple were to introduce a new iPhone and, during the introduction festivities, the lights went out, the sound system fell silent and the projector failed, the iPhone could still be a success.

Obamacare, the program, remains to be evaluated.

The initial chaos hides something important and unspoken. The system was brought down not only by governmental incompetence, but by the huge numbers of those seeking enrollment and failing. Why is the “unpopular” program so popular that it floods the system into failure unless there is a great unmet need?

That some should lose their insurance in the process is inexcusable and should have been foreseen. So far the numbers are relatively small and most should find replacement under the new law. But conveniently unmentioned by critics is the far greater number of 50 million uninsured Americans, mostly the working poor, who have no insurance to lose – and whose numbers will be reduced by Obamacare. Why is the temporary tragedy of a few worse than the long-term tragedy of the many?

Many agree with Warren Buffett, certainly no lefty, who feels the enrollment numbers will rise, the present confusion will be forgotten and the program will eventually be seen as a small step forward.

Obamacare’s greatest flaw is not that it goes too far, but that it doesn’t go far enough. It leaves intact a flawed, inefficient, extraordinarily expensive, dysfunctional health care delivery system badly in need of a major overhaul that awaits another day and another battle.

When that day comes, there will surely be those on the shore shouting, “It’ll never work, it’ll never work.” But in the end it will.