From a distance of three and a half years, the events of March 23, 2010, the day President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, seem like something from another world.
On that day, the Democrats who gathered in the East Room of the White House for the signing ceremony could barely contain their joy. They cheered, they laughed, they shouted, they pumped their fists, they wouldn't sit down. They chanted "Fired up -- ready to go!" as they had at Obama campaign rallies. When the president recognized Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House, the chant turned to "Nancy! Nancy! Nancy!"
Pelosi, of course, would be swept out of the speakership in the Republican landslide a few months later -- a result that was based, in part, on the voters' unhappiness with Obamacare. And today, some of the other Democrats in the East Room are now afraid for their jobs -- because of the voters' unhappiness with Obamacare.
After an effusive introduction from Vice President Biden, Obama turned almost immediately to the task ahead. "It will take four years to implement fully many of these reforms," he said, "because we need to implement them responsibly. We need to get this right."
At the time, no one had any idea just how ill-prepared Obama and his administration were to actually do the job they set for themselves. Three years later, approaching an Oct. 1, 2013, deadline for the establishment of the Obamacare exchanges, the administration was still scrambling to finish even the most basic tasks. What followed was disaster.
But on signing day 2010, it was all cheering. As the audience applauded, Obama promised the new law would "lower costs for families and for businesses." He cited the case of Natoma Canfield, an Ohio woman whose story he often told during the health care fight. Canfield, divorced and 50 years old, had had cancer but was still able to find what she called "costly, but affordable" coverage on the individual market. Then her insurance company abruptly raised her premium.
"Natoma had to give up her health coverage after her rates were jacked up by more than 40 percent," Obama said.
Now, because of Obamacare, millions of Americans in the individual market, most of whom have not had a major health crisis, are facing abrupt increases of more than 40 percent in their health insurance premiums. On top of that, they are finding deductibles rising far beyond those that troubled Canfield. (In a 2009 letter to the president, Canfield complained of having a $2,500 deductible; on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that under Obamacare "the average individual deductible for what is called a bronze plan on the exchange — the lowest-priced coverage — is $5,081 a year.")
Even the president's personal observations on signing day were not what they appeared. "I'm signing this reform bill into law on behalf of my mother," Obama told the audience, "who argued with insurance companies even as she battled cancer in her final days." Obama often cited his mother's story, suggesting that she had to fight to have her treatment covered. But a year after the signing ceremony, a 2011 biography of Stanley Ann Dunham revealed she had health coverage that covered the costs of her cancer treatment. Her argument was over a disability policy, which she wanted to pay her living -- not medical -- expenses. Obama never said that.
Finally the president got down to signing the bill. That, too, reflected the over-the-top enthusiasm of the day. Presidents sometimes use several pens to sign important legislation. Obama gave the Affordable Care Act a special flourish, using a total of 22 pens to sign his name.
After the ceremony, Obama went to the headquarters of the Interior Department, where he held what amounted to a duplicate ceremony for an overflow crowd. During that event, he re-stated the promises that seem so troubling now that Obamacare has actually arrived. "I said this once or twice, but it bears repeating: If you like your current insurance, you will keep your current insurance," Obama said. "Nobody is changing what you've got if you're happy with it. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor."
If anybody had any doubts, Obama pledged, the future would prove his words to be true. "Now that this legislation is passed, you don't have to take my word for it," he told the crowd. "You'll be able to see it in your own lives."