The Affordable Care Act (ACA), like President Clinton’s health plan in the 1990s, made the mistake of trying to achieve coast-to-coast health care coverage with a system that essentially looks the same everywhere. That approach was always going to be a challenge. US health care is an enormous and complex economy in its own right. If the US health system were a separate national economy, for instance, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world – larger than the entire economy of France or of Britain. The idea that a single piece of legislation could successfully reorganize the world’s fifth largest economy was a fantasy, especially when the bill had to go through the congressional sausage-making machine.
It’s true that the ACA gave Americans a choice of plan on federal or state-run exchanges. But the ACA still sought a template for insurance rules, benefits and other structural features that would be the same from Vermont to Texas and Florida to Alaska. That was unwise. The continuous political warfare since the enactment of the legislation reflects the fact that different parts of the country have very different views of how health care should be organized.