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Games Republicans play 

"This isn't some damn game."

That was John Boehner, digging in his heels last week as he insisted that Democrats negotiate over the Affordable Care Act.

Not a game? I don't know what else Boehner thinks the Republicans are up to. It certainly isn't the business of running the country. And it's not democracy (which, last time I looked, involved majority rule).

This sure looks like a game, and a deadly serious one. It's also blackmail. And as numerous liberal commentators are warning, if President Obama backs down, conservative Republicans will feel figure they can threaten to close down the government and default on the nation's obligations every time they don't get their way.

White House officials apparently think they're winning right now. But that's a very narrow view. Republicans may lose this current round, but their real goal is to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. And part of their game plan is to turn the public against it. There, they seem to be succeeding, and they might very well parlay that success into gains in House and Senate elections next year. If they control both houses, the fledgling health-care plan could die a very quick death. And nothing else Obama pushes will ever see the light of day.

While Congress spars, the next phase of the Affordable Care Act is rolling out. Technically, it hasn't been a good start, but presumably the software and overload kinks will be worked out. That isn't the only negative health-insurance news we'll hear this fall, though. Many employer-provided insurance policies will be hit with double-digit rate increases again for the coming year.

We could have avoided a lot of this, of course, if we had we adopted a single-payer health-care plan. But Congress (and the insurance companies) wanted a market-based system, with the insurance companies fully involved, so that's what we have.

For all its flaws, though, the Affordable Care Act is giving us some really good things, and with their little temper tantrums, the conservatives in Congress have been able to get the public to forget about those improvements.

Insurers now have to provide numerous preventive services with no co-pay, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and depression screening and immunizations against many diseases. Young people can stay on their parents' insurance policies until they're 26.

Insurance companies used to be able to deny insurance to people with a pre-existing condition. They used to put lifetime limits on the amount of coverage they would provide – financially crippling many people who have catastrophic diseases.

They used to be able to retroactively cancel your insurance if you had made an error in filling out your insurance application, and there were numerous horror stories about companies digging through patients' records once they faced serious illness, going to extremes to find ways to cancel their policies.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, they can't do any of that now.

And while most Americans get health insurance through their employers, millions don't. For them, insurance will be more affordable than in the past – a huge benefit for people who have lost their jobs, those who work for small businesses that don't provide insurance coverage, and millions of others.

The Affordable Care Act isn't perfect. But it's far better than what the country had before. The majority of the members of Congress passed the law, and the Supreme Court says it is constitutional. And if the Republicans wanted a new referendum on the law, they got one with the presidential election of 2012: Barack Obama, whom they have loudly blamed for the law, won.

So now the Republicans are resorting to shell games and magic tricks, smothering the details of an important public health initiative under exaggeration, lies, and bluster. We should learn over the next few weeks whether the rest of us are smart enough to see what they're up to.

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