Senator Schumer has made a plausible argument for why Obamacare was a political mistake. I disagree. Democratic politicians have mainly defended Obamacare on the grounds of access, fairness and cost containment. But in the process, Democrats have missed an opportunity to show how Obamacare is a platform for entrepreneurial growth. Framed correctly, Obamacare could turn out to be the heart of the new pro-growth, pro-middle class, pro-production Democratic Party.
Consider this. When I left BusinessWeek in 2009, I started my own company, Visible Economy, making news and education videos (the website and the business, alas, are no longer active). As a budding not-so-young entrepreneur, the only reason I had that choice was because I could carry over healthcare coverage from my previous employer. If I had no health insurance, I couldn’t have started the business.
Obamacare allows almost anyone who wants to start a business to do so, without fear of being excluded from healthcare coverage because of age or pre-existing conditions. This is a big deal, for two reasons. First, because any sane middle-class person will think twice about starting a new business if they can’t get healthcare coverage (“entrepreneur lock“).
Second, Democrats who embrace a pro-growth, pro-innovation message can go to voters with Obamacare as an opening example of what the party is willing to do for the middle class. The pro-growth message will increasingly resonate over time, especially if the party backs up Obamacare with additional pro-growth reforms, such as smart regulation and less reliance on onerous and regressive fees and fines on the local level (that turned out to be a big part of the issue in Ferguson).
From a political perspective, Obamacare can unite the Democratic party. PPI has long strongly supported ACA-like universal healthcare coverage. That goal resonates with the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic party as well. Obamacare brings poor working families into the healthcare system, and at least up to now, appears to be slowing the rate of health care cost increases.
It was inevitable that whichever party initiated healthcare reform was going to take political damage–that’s why it took so long. Now Democrats need to use Obamacare as a key building block of their pro-growth message.