Those challenges aren't the only reasons why healthcare and healthcare reform will remain front and center in the daily news cycle. The political assault on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will pick up as soon as Congress comes back into session.
With the mid-term elections looming in November, Republicans on Capitol Hill have promised to highlight the issue as they seek to retain control of the House and capture the Senate. They still control the bully pulpit that comes with the power to call congressional hearings and order investigations. They will use those tools to highlight every drawback and flaw in reform's rollout, its impact on some consumers and the glitches in its ongoing operations.
Their message will be amplified by the unprecedented advertising assault that will come from independent actors—mostly ultraconservative—who operate behind thinly veiled political action committees. It's impossible to know whether the wealthy individuals and corporate entities who are funding this advertising onslaught are true believers in free-market healthcare, have contempt for the people who provide healthcare, simply don't want to provide their workers with insurance or see Obamacare as a convenient whipping boy for some other agenda.
In the end, the answer doesn't matter. Given the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, they will be as much a part of the landscape going forward as those 10,000 baby boomers who retire each day.
That's why it is so important that reporters and editors who cover complex healthcare stories take the educational component of their mission seriously. As I read the press during the holiday-shortened final two weeks of the year, I saw far too many stories that failed miserably at that task.
Take, for instance, one story that appeared in the nation's leading financial paper that reported how patients were racing to cram in last-minute tests and procedures “before the health law starts.” The story blamed the phenomenon on the rise of narrow networks, never once stopping to analyze how much of the phenomenon—hard to measure under the best of circumstances—could actually be tied to people who lost their old plans and obtained new ones with restricted networks.
The story caught my eye because over the course of my reporting career, I wrote several end-of-the-year stories on the rush to get procedures and tests done. Of course, before Obamacare came along, analysts and economists tied the phenomenon to “use it or lose it” health savings accounts. That factor was never noted in this year's story.