If there’s one thing Republicans hate even more than health insurance for a growing number of Americans, it’s empirical evidence that Obamacare is insuring a growing number of Americans.
As we hit the first enrollment deadline, the raw stats demonstrate that the health reform law is very much alive and threading itself into the national fabric. Well over 6 million people have signed up on the state-run marketplace exchanges, nearly matching the original forecast - a minor miracle, given last autumn’s website disaster. Roughly one-third of those signers were previously uninsured. Plus, another 4.5 million previously uninsured people have signed up for Obamacare, via the expanded Medicaid program that’s now available in half the states. Plus, 3 million previously uninsured young adults are now covered under their parents’ plans, via a popular Obamacare provision.
In other words, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans now have coverage; indeed, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says in a new report that the uninsured population will drop more than 20 percent during 2014. Meanwhile, the public opinion vibes are bullish. The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll says that a plurality of Americans now favor Obamacare, 49 to 48 percent. (That’s a new high, driven by a surge in Democratic support.) And while Republicans continue to jerk their knees for repeal, pollsters at the Kaiser Family Foundation say that only 29 percent of Americans want repeal.
But we all know how the haters in the conservative cocoon react to facts.
The basic mindset: “No this isn’t happening!” Or as Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming insisted, the Obama administration is simply “cooking the books.”
By now, of course, we recognize the symptoms of this denial psychosis. Like when they insist that virtually every climate change scientist on the planet is making stuff up. And when they insisted, in October 2012, that all the pollsters forecasting an Obama victory were just cooking the numbers. And when they insisted, in October 2012, that the reported drop in the jobless rate was actually a Labor Department plot to cook the stats.
I know, I know. Obamacare comes with many caveats; its fine print has yet to be delineated. To borrow the immortal Donald Rumsfeld phrase, there are many unknown unknowns. We won’t know for awhile how many of the signers have started paying premiums, or what percentage of young healthy people have enrolled, or whether large uninsured communities (such as Hispanics) can be persuaded to sign up, or whether insurance companies will hike their premiums (as they typically did, pre-Obamacare), or how the law’s postponed provisions will work when they finally kick in.
And I will be shocked if the Republicans don’t win big in the autumn midterm elections. Their votes (older white people) typically dominate the midterms, and this year they’ll be highly motivated by hatred of Obamacare. President Obama’s coalition (younger and racially diverse) isn’t well attuned to the midterms, and even if they like Obamacare, their intensity level probably isn’t sufficient to propel them to the polls en masse.
But even if Republicans take the Senate and agitate anew for repeal in 2015, they’ll be forced to face political reality - not just Obama’s veto power, but the virtually impossible task of stopping a train that has already left the station. Anyone who signs up for Obamacare is a voter who would resent Republican meddling; in politics, the most suicidal thing you can do is try to take away something that people have. And certainly by 2016, the Obamacare constituency will be in the tens of millions.
The process hasn’t been smooth or pretty - as they say in football, it’s “two yards and a cloud of dust” - but the health reform team continues to move the ball downfield despite carping from the sidelines.
Ross Douthat, the New York Times’ conservative columnist, framed it best in his wake-up message to the haters. Obamacare, he said, “is taking place on a significant scale.” For Republicans, the big political risk is that they “would end up stripping coverage from millions of newly-insured Americans...But wherever they go and whatever they do, they will have to deal with the reality that Obamacare, thrice-buried, looks very much alive.”
Or they can just keep telling themselves that reality is merely a mirage. Sounds about right.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com.