But the law — passed in 2010 and more formally known as the Affordable Care Act — has survived. It’s more than survived, in fact. It now stands as a monument to a particular theory of progressive lawmaking: When the federal government enacts a new benefit that makes life easier for millions of people, the program tends to endure. That describes universal high school, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare.
President Biden yesterday signed a package of executive actions on health care, and many experts described them as steps to undo Donald Trump’s attempted sabotage of the law. Which they are. But the modest scope of the actions is also a reminder of how little progress Trump made in undermining the law.
Consider this chart:
The New York Times | Source: United States Census Bureau, via Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The number of Americans without health insurance did rise during the Trump presidency, because of his attempts to diminish the law. His administration did little to advertise Obamacare policies and weakened some of its provisions, like protections for people with certain medical conditions. But this increase in the number of uninsured reversed only a small portion of the decline caused by Obamacare.
Even after Trump, an additional 20 million or so Americans have health insurance today largely because of Obamacare. Others have better benefits — like maternity care and addiction treatment — or face lower costs.
What Biden did yesterday
Biden’s orders still matter, because Trump’s actions mattered.
Biden will try to strengthen protections for people with medical conditions. He will also create a new three-month sign-up period for Obamacare, starting next month, aimed partly at people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The most recent sign-up period was in the fall.
Perhaps most significant, the Biden administration plans to promote the sign-up period heavily, through advertisements, email and other outreach, according to my colleague Margot Sanger-Katz, who’s been covering Obamacare for most of its existence. “Biden’s people think the Trump people bungled the regular enrollment period,” Margot told me.
By the end of Trump’s presidency, the uninsured rate probably rose close to 10 percent, from 8.6 percent in the Obama administration’s final year. Through executive action, Biden may be able to reduce it to about 8 percent over the next four years, according to my reporting.
The bigger question is whether Biden can persuade Congress to pass a new law that would go further than Obamacare did, by making coverage less expensive for more people. Otherwise, at least 25 million Americans are likely to remain uninsured.
“There are still millions of poor, uninsured Americans in states that didn’t expand Medicaid,” Margot says, “and millions of middle-class Americans who find Obamacare insurance unaffordable.”
The big picture: “The Affordable Care Act is a highly flawed, distressingly compromised, woefully incomplete attempt to establish a basic right that already exists … in every other developed nation,” Jonathan Cohn, another longtime health care journalist, writes in “The Ten Year War,” a forthcoming book. “It is also the most ambitious and significant piece of domestic legislation to pass in half a century.”
THE LATEST NEWS
A vaccination site in Greenville, S.C.Travis Dove for The New York Times
Novavax, a little-known company supported by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, said that its coronavirus vaccine was almost 90 percent effective. But it’s only about 50 percent effective against the variant that was first found in South Africa.
Vietnam, which has been relatively successful in containing the virus, reported 82 new infections, the first local transmissions in nearly two months. Some cases may be connected to the variant that has been spreading in Britain.
GameStop’s stock plummeted 44 percent yesterday, after days of rapid growth spurred by groups of small investors who gather online. The company’s stock is still 200 percent higher than it was at the start of the week.
Ted Cruz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — from opposite sides of the political spectrum — complained that Robinhood’s restrictions punished ordinary people, while large investors and hedge funds were able to trade freely.
That a Reddit forum upended Wall Street should come as no surprise, the Times’s tech columnist Kevin Roose writes: “Book publishers, movie studios, restaurant chains — all of them have, in some way, been forced to cede power to their online critics.”
OTHER BIG STORIES
General Motors says it will sell only electric vehicles by 2035, phasing out the gas-powered pickup trucks and S.U.V.s that today earn billions for the company.
A liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant in Gainesville, Ga., killed six people. Union officials said the accident raised questions about safety protocols at the plant.
Biden is trying to persuade Republicans to back a $1.9 trillion spending package, but Democrats are pursuing another path to get the relief approved even without bipartisan support.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, held a “cordial” meeting with Donald Trump to court support for Republican candidates. The meeting, weeks after McCarthy blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, shows how reluctant Republicans are to desert the former president.
Some Republican members of Congress have links to organizations and movements that played a role in the assault on the Capitol, prompting scrutiny. And body camera footage shows how Capitol rioters trampled over a 34-year-old woman.
This fluffy white raptor became Manhattan’s latest celebrity bird yesterday.Maryté Mercado
Lives Lived: In a seven-decade-long career, Cicely Tyson broke ground for Black actors by refusing to take demeaning parts. She won three Emmys, an honorary Oscar, and at 88 she became the oldest person to win a Tony. She died at 96.
When Christopher Little received the first three chapters of a book about a boy wizard in 1995, he initially dismissed it. But his office manager insisted he give it a chance. Little became the literary agent who helped build an empire around Harry Potter. Little died at 79.
The 1953 Academy Awards, the first to be broadcast on television.J.R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images
How to fix the Oscars
The first Academy Awards ceremony, on May 16, 1929, was 15 minutes long and resembled a corporate banquet. Over the years, the ceremony turned into the hourslong spectacle that you’ve probably watched at some point. Now some critics and Hollywood people are urging new changes.
Some could even take effect this year. The ceremony has been postponed until late April because of the pandemic.
He also recommends treating “Parasite,” last year’s best-picture winner, “not as an outlier but as a harbinger.” It was the first film not in the English language to win that award, and it “fulfilled the Oscar ideal” — a well-crafted movie with something to say that stands the test of time — better than any mainstream Hollywood production in decades, he writes. So why not remove the best international feature category and make best picture an explicitly international category? Another idea: broadening the awards voting pool by expanding academy membership for more geographical, generational and cultural diversity.
Others have more immediate suggestions. During the pandemic, the actors nominated for awards should stay home and participate remotely, Peter Mehlman, a former “Seinfeld” writer, told The Times. “Don’t you think accepting an Oscar on a couch with dogs and kids might just humanize these people?” he said.
One of the revolutionary artistic mediums of the 20th century? Collage, as evidenced in the Spanish painter Juan Gris’s “Still Life: The Table,” made from newsprint, wallpaper and several other paper stocks. Explore it here.
WHAT TO READ
“Fake Accounts,” the critic Lauren Oyler’s debut novel, follows a smart, irascible narrator who is too steeped in online life and social media. Read Parul Sehgal’s review.
Which top government jobs have still never been held by a woman? What did Anthony Fauci endure over the past year? And what’s going on in the above photo? Take this week’s News Quiz, and see how well you do compared with other Times readers.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you Monday. — David
P.S. A hidden haiku from The Times’s coverage of the latest G.D.P. numbers: “The late-year slump was / driven by a slowdown in / consumer spending.”
Our nation is facing an extraordinary racial justice crisis and to ensure this new administration takes action, the NAACP has been working with the Biden-Harris administration to create a Racial Equity Envoy to consult them on every aspect of policy.
We're proud to announce that the White House has chosen Susan Rice to lead a team of changemakers.