In light of the continuing problems with Healthcare.gov it is clear Republican governors made an incredibly smart political decision when they opted not to build their own state-based exchanges. If you separate it from the policy implications, on a purely political level it was one of the smartest collective political moves in years
It should now be obvious to everyone that building an insurance exchange is an incredibly difficult task. While some states like California have done a good job, other states like Oregon have struggled. Even people who are strongly committed to making the Affordable Care Act work have had real trouble building a functioning exchange on time.
If all the Republican governors had actually tried their hardest to create their own state-based exchanges — which is a big if — it is still likely many of them would have run into huge problems, because the task is so difficult. Under this scenario, though, the Republican governors would have received some or all of the blame for the current implementation problems. Many would have accused the Republicans governors of purposeful sabotage, instead of acknowledging the problems springing from the complexity of the job they were handed.
These Republicans governors who struggled to build these exchanges would have upset Democratic voters for failing the ACA, Republicans voters for trying to make it work and independents by looking incompetent. On the other hand if their state exchanges worked it is likely President Obama would have swooped in to take the most of the credit since it is his signature law.
Building an exchange created an effectively no-win political situation for Republican governors, since the ACA was designed to require the federal government to step in if they chose not to do so.
By refusing to do the thankless and difficult job of creating such a complex system they managed push all the responsibility back on President Obama and the design of the law itself. Under this scenario the Obama team completely fell on their faces and took Obama’s poll numbers down with them.
Photo by Gage Skidmore under Creative Commons license