WASHINGTON — It took only a year to set up Medicare. But if President Barack Obama’s health care law survives Supreme Court scrutiny, it will be nearly a decade before all its major pieces are in place.
And that means even if Obama is re-elected, he won’t be in office to oversee completion of his signature domestic policy accomplishment, assuming Republicans don’t succeed in repealing it.
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The law’s carefully orchestrated phase-in is evidence of what’s at stake in the Supreme Court deliberations that start March 26.
The Affordable Care Act gradually reorganizes one-sixth of the U.S. economy to cover most of the nation’s 50 million uninsured, while simultaneously trying to restrain costs and prevent disruptions to the majority already with coverage.
Despite the political rhetoric about what “Obamacare” is doing to the nation, only a fraction of the law is in effect.
“We really haven’t seen the main game,” said Drew Altman, president of the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit information clearinghouse on the health care system. “The major provisions that will affect the most people and cost the most money don’t go into effect until 2014 or later.”
What has taken effect in the two years since the law was enacted has produced both successes and clunkers, and some surprises.