To hear administration officials and their supporters in the press tell it, this is a great time for Obamacare. People who signed up for coverage are actually paying for it; more insurance companies are joining exchanges; some consumers have more choices than originally envisioned.
Not so fast. Yes, Obamacare is a big help for those now receiving something substantial from the government -- large subsidies for the lowest-income Americans who purchase coverage on the exchanges, free health care for people eligible for the expanded Medicaid program.
But for millions of other Americans, it's a different story. In fact, one respected analyst worries Obamacare, while helping some, is actually "creating a chronically uninsured class" of those ineligible for its taxpayer-paid assistance.
Of the much-discussed 8 million Americans who have signed up for Obamacare, the "vast majority ... are receiving financial assistance," according to a new Department of Health and Human Services report. What that means is this: Of the 8 million, about 85 percent, or 6.8 million, actually paid for coverage. Of those, about 87 percent, or 5.9 million, receive taxpayer-paid subsidies.
In other words, nearly everyone who has bought insurance through the Obamacare exchanges has done so with money from the government. And the subsidies are significant -- an average of $264 a month, according to HHS. The average monthly premium is $346, according to the report, so minus the $264 subsidy, the average subsidy recipient is paying a net cost of $82 a month for coverage. The government pays the rest.
The problem is, for those who are not eligible for subsidies, or for those eligible only for smaller subsidies, Obamacare still presents higher premiums, higher deductibles, and narrow networks of doctors and hospitals.
The Democrats who created Obamacare planned to pressure the middle class into buying insurance by imposing an individual mandate -- a penalty euphemistically called a "shared responsibility fee" -- on those who go uninsured. The idea was, the mandate would not only increase the coverage rate but also raise revenue for the government.
But now comes word that very few will pay the penalty. In a recent study, the Congressional Budget Office said that of the 30 million people estimated to be uninsured in 2016, only about 4 million will be required to pay. The rest -- 26 million people -- will be exempt from the mandate under various regulations issued by the Obama administration.
What happens now? After Democrats finish crowing about what a success Obamacare is, it's likely they will argue that subsidies must be extended to more and more Americans to pay for coverage that Obamacare has made more and more expensive. Republicans will resist, but at the same time realize Obamacare has changed the health care system in ways that will be difficult to overturn and hard to fix.
And for those millions for whom Obamacare is a bad deal? They're just out of luck.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.