JACK SPENCER: Obamacare: One blind bet after another

Back in 1971, a racehorse named Canonero II pulled a big surprise by winning the Kentucky Derby. Prior to the race almost no one was talking much about Canonero II. A few so-called experts suggested he might have an outside chance because he’d been racing in Venezuela. At times racehorses do well in the U.S. shortly after being shipped in from South America because the altitude change can have a positive effect. Prior to the race that seemed to be the only angle Canonero II had in his favor.

On Derby Day there was nothing in the Daily Racing Form to recommend that Canonero II should be considered anything but a long shot. There was literally no data on Canonero II at all. That’s because the information on his most recent races in South America hadn’t yet arrived in the U.S. The lines for Canonero II in the Daily Racing Form that usually have records showing how the racehorse has performed in the past simply stated: “Not Available.”

After the race, when the missing facts finally arrived, they showed that Canonero II had previously been successfully competing against very strong competition. At that point the horse’s victory in the Derby made perfect sense. But of course this late information was of no use to anyone after the race.

There’s a parallel here with Obamacare. All along, its supporters have been making a blind bet based primarily on a general attitude rather than solid information. That’s how the parameters of the issue have been drawn and, sadly, the debate over Obamacare seems destined to continue on that basis.

Key data on the costs individuals will face under Obamacare remains unavailable. Without real overall numbers to crunch, the public is left with nothing more than propaganda that’s based on anecdotal examples.

This is the same sort of information we see in advertisements that claim: “I lost 240 pounds on such and such a diet — purchase our booklet and start losing your excess pounds, too.” Usually such claims include small print that states: “Reported results may not be typical.”

In other words, pay up first — find out if it works later.

Remember the assertion former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made regarding Obamacare when Congress was wrestling with the legislation: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it away from the controversy.”

As audacious as that statement was, perhaps its most ludicrous aspect was the premise that we would ever be “away from the controversy.”

Many believed that, as Obamacare approached some good, hard numbers would emerge revealing what it would be costing people, both overall and in various groupings. But that’s not what’s happening. The only way to get “the big picture” on who and how many will really benefit from Obamacare and who and how many will be hurt, is by crunching the overall numbers. Yet, just two-and-a-half months from Obamacare taking effect, there aren’t overall numbers to crunch.

What’s more, the complexity of gathering the needed data is hindered by the federal government delaying enforcement and implementation of some parts of Obamacare. That means not only is the overall information not available – if some partial information comes to light it could be incomplete and, most definitely disputable.

Where does that leave the public? Right where it has been regarding Obamacare all along — stuck with the propaganda and its own interpretations of what’s really going on.

We’re already seeing individual testimonials from people who claim: “It was easy; I signed up for coverage that only costs me $11 a month.” Against that, there are the repeated reports from businesses saying that they’re facing huge increases in the costs of their health insurance premiums.

Within the news media, both claims are likely to be reported and highlighted, depending on the “slant” under which each particular news source operates.

And all of this tainted information, disinformation and possibly outright lies are just about the superficial costs. It doesn’t even get to the issue of what sort of coverage is getting purchased. Is it even worth $11 a month? It doesn’t breakdown the variety of ways higher health insurance premiums for businesses impacts employees or how many employees understand how they’re being impacted.

The point is that anyone who is expecting a definitive, bottom line, “Obamacare is working” or “Obamacare is failing” verdict before the 2014 election, will almost surely be disappointed. Meanwhile, both sides will undoubtedly claim that “the verdict is in” and they were right all along.

It could possibly come down to individual perceptions – and if trying to tally up costs with unavailable data seems impossible, try figuring out how to tally up perceptions. Will those who lose their health care coverage or opportunities for employment due to Obamacare turn against it; or embrace it because it is there to provide at least the semblance of an alternative?

Then there’s the question of whether the sum total of all of these perceptions will even matter in the end. After all, Obamacare passed without ever having the support of a majority of the voters.

From the moment Obamacare passed, the nation has been witness to one blind bet after another. Would the backlash against President Barack Obama in 2010 drive a stake in its heart and kill Obamacare? No, that effort fell short. Would voters remove Barack Obama from office in 2012 and get the law repealed? No, that didn’t happen either.

Now opponents of Obamacare are betting on a renewed backlash in 2014. It’s a slim chance, perhaps slimmer than the opportunities of 2010 and 2012. On the other hand, sometimes what seems like a slim chance can pay off. After all, Canonero II did win the 1971 Kentucky Derby.