But beware hype about 'losers'.

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Obamacare is starting to resemble a patient bleeding from self-inflicted wounds.

A month after launch, the online health exchanges where individuals are supposed to shop for insurance remain slow or unusable, except in states that opted to run their own marketplaces and did a more competent job than the administration.

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As if that weren't trouble enough, critics are justifiably mocking President Obama for his repeated, untrue promise that if people liked their health plans, they could keep them. Oops. Hundreds of thousands of people are getting termination notices for plans that don't meet the strict new requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Presumably, not all those people disliked their plans.

There's no mystery about why Obama engaged in fiction. The Clinton administration's bid to overhaul health care failed largely because it would have disrupted coverage for millions of consumers satisfied with their employer-based or government plans. Obamacare doesn't terminate any of those plans, and Obama wanted to sound reassuring. But surely he knew that a major goal of his own law was to wipe out cheap coverage that was insurance in name only.

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Now he can't seem to admit he overpromised and oversimplified. He and his aides compound their credibility problem by suggesting that people whose plans are being canceled "just shop around in the new marketplace" — a laughable impossibility while HealthCare.gov is plagued by bugs.

It's a mess, and no doubt not the last one that will be associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The law is sure to produce consequences, intended and unintended, that ripple throughout the nation's health care system.

But while the start-up problems and the president's airy advice are disappointing, it's important to keep them in perspective. Change this big is almost always disruptive and messy. In 2006, turbulence and confusion marked the early days of health overhaul in Massachusetts and the start of the Medicare prescription drug program; both are now operating relatively smoothly.

Amid today's hype about Obamacare "losers," many of whom actually stand to do well under the new law, context is important. The individual market for health insurance covers only about 5% of Americans. The roughly 80% of people with insurance from employers, or from government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, don't need to buy coverage on the new exchanges. And the 15% who are uninsured, most notably people with pre-existing medical conditions, will have new access to affordable plans.

Nor is the pre-Obamacare status quo a viable option. Its runaway costs and sleazy insurance practices were placing increasing millions of people in jeopardy. In fact, some of the stories about people who are "losing" coverage illustrate how true that is.

Take the CBS News report on 56-year-old Dianne Barrette of Florida, who is outraged that, because of Obamacare, BlueCross is canceling her $54-a-month policy and offering her new coverage for $591 a month.

Follow-up reporting revealed that the policy Barrette wanted to keep was more of a discount plan than insurance. Had she gotten seriously ill, there was no coverage for hospitalization. So she could have been bankrupted despite her coverage, with her hospital costs passed along to others. In fact, three-quarters of people whose bankruptcies involve crushing health bills do have insurance, just not the kind that works.

That's changing, and it's about time. Given Barrette's income of less than $46,000 a year, it's almost certain she would qualify for subsidies that would let her buy the far stronger insurance Obamacare requires — with robust coverage for hospital care and a limit on out-of-pocket expenses — for less than BlueCross quoted her.

Already, though, there are cynical efforts in Congress to hold Obama to his promise by allowing people to keep — and insurers to peddle — substandard "insurance" like Barrette's. That would be a step backward.

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

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