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Just posted to the homepage, two new stories. In this web-exclusive response to Germain Grisez, Dennis O’Brien writes on Francis and the character of Christian truth:

It is often commented that unlike many other great sages and spiritual leaders of humankind, Jesus never wrote a word; his impact was in live speech. The primacy of live speech, face-to-face communication, is a deep lesson about the nature of Christian truth and teaching. I believe that Pope Francis in the interview places the particular person speaking prior to instruction. The interview with Civilità Cattolica starts with “Who is Jorge Maria Bergoglio?” The answer: “I am a sinner—a sinner who has been forgiven by Christ.” For Francis, the voice that claims to teach the truths of Christianity is the voice of a forgiven sinner. Grisez might counter that this is all very well for Bergoglio, but not for one charged with the office of pope. The pope should speak in a “universal” voice, not as Ratzinger or Bergoglio. I think a universal voice fails to carry the full Christian message, and that is the radical shift that Pope Francis effects. Face-to-face is the site of Christian teaching.

Also posted: E. J. Dionne Jr. on where Obamacare is working, and where it isn’t.

States that created their own healthcare exchanges -- and especially those that did this while also expanding Medicaid coverage -- are providing health insurance to tens of thousands of happy customers, in so many cases for the first time.

Those seeking a model for how the law is supposed to operate should look to Kentucky. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat in a red state, has embraced with evangelical fervor the cause of covering 640,000 uninsured Kentuckians. …

Beshear urges us to keep our eyes on the interests of those the law is intended to serve, our uninsured fellow citizens. "These 640,000 people are not some set of aliens,” he says. “They’re our friends and neighbors ... some of them are members of our families.” As for the troubled national website, Beshear offered this: “If I could give unsolicited advice to the critics, and maybe to the media, it’s: Take a deep breath.”

Wise counsel. But there can be no denying the system failure that is a profound embarrassment to the Obama administration and threatens to undermine all the good the law could do, since its enemies will use any excuse to discredit it.

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NPR has been covering the Obamacare national site woes in-depth: 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/10/23/240247394/the-obamacare-tech-mess-its-a-familiar-government-story

The "See Plans Now" button is now working at healthcare.gov, which is an improvement in that it allows you to see the policies for which you might be eligible in your  area. It also provides ballpark premium costs. I checked out bronze and silver plans, which seem to be around $300 per month. But the estimator bases the premiums on someone age 50, so if you're 60 like me, you could pay more. 

The "See Plans Now" area will also take you to a Kaiser Foundation calculator page that will ballpark your subsidy based on income. These estimates are also dicey; the site says clearly that you "could receive a tax credit subsidy up to ...," but you won't really know what your subsidy will be until you actually apply and select a plan. 

The problem with the subsidy for some low-income earners is finding the money to pay for those monthly premiums before the first subsidy arrives. If your budget is close-to-the-bone, finding an extra $300 per month for premiums may prove difficult. Add to that the fact that bronze and silver plans pay about 60 to 70 percent of your health care costs, so in addition to your premiums, you're still likely to have substantial out-of-pocket costs to cover.

Also add to the mix the fact that one of the unintended consequences of the ACA is for employers to cut part-time workers to less than 30 hours per week in order to avoid being liable for health care insurance for them. That means some low-income workers are even lower-income than before, and will have a harder time paying that first year of premiums. 

My suggested strategy for my fellow low-income wage earners trying to deal with these variables is this: Find the cheapest plan possible for the first year, drive carefully, eat right, and pray for good health (which you should be doing anyway). Then use whatever rebate you get after that first year to buy a better plan when the next enrollment period comes around. Opting out is cheaper, even with the penalty, but you'll end up without coverage at all, and no subsidy to use to try to increase your coverage.

 

Re: Dionne's grousing about Republican governor's obstructionism: this is another inevitable, and fully foreseeable, consequence of passing Obamacare on straight-party votes.  Far better to work for bipartisan buy-in on these major government initiatives.

The "work for bipartisan buy-in"  consisted of adopting the Republican (Swiss, Romneycare) private insurance approach rather than the Democratic (Canadian, Medicare) single-payer approach. Why the Republican approach did not attract a single Republican vote remains a mystery. It may have been the president's doubtful birth; it mahy have been the color of his skin; it may have been the D after his name. Whatever it was, giving the Republicans what they had said they wanted yielded zip. Far better to blame Obama. Obviously.

I'm not a fan of the ACA, though I'm one of those who will supposedly benefit from it. But, to speak to Jim's point, there have been many more moderate health care insurance relief measures that have been proposed over the years (everything from individual medical savings accounts to dollar-for-dollar tax rebates on some medical expenses to putting Medicaid on a sliding scale basis). Republicans have consistently rejected these plans, often branding them "socialized medicine."

So the very expensive, clunky, confusing Big Government deal they got with Obamacare is partly their own fault for failing to act when these measures were on the table.