Obamacare and mainstream American optimism

    It’s widely assumed these days that the horrific Obamacare rollout will benefit the Republicans, who have long been rooting for failure. It’s widely assumed that politics is just a zero-sum game, that the federal website’s woes automatically translate into broad public support for the party of repeal.

    Those assumptions would be wrong.

    I know that our polarized culture doesn’t do nuance very well; those who troll in simplicities will no doubt close their minds to the latest poll numbers. But the stats are noteworthy nonetheless. The new CNN/ORC survey – conducted last week, during the sustained bad-news blitz about Obamacare – reports that a solid majority of Americans are confident that the health reform law will ultimately work.

    When asked whether they believe that Obamacare’s rollout headaches will be resolved, 54 percent said yes. Among centrist Americans (who describe themselves as moderates), 58 percent said yes. Among young Americans (whose willingness to enroll in Obamacare is crucial to the law’s success), 71 percent said yes. All told, the American majority disagreed with the survey’s Republicans – only 27 percent of whom said that Obamacare was fixable.

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    Another stat is noteworthy as well: 54 percent either support Obamacare or say it’s not liberal enough. That’s virtually unchanged from a month ago, when the website rollout was a fresh administration embarassment.

    In other words, despite the avalanche of bad news, most people still want to give health reform a chance. I chalk that up to three factors: (a) inherent American optimism, (b) the occasional good news that has managed to cut through the clutter, and (c) a broad recognition that the old system – the system to which the Republicans are wedded – is not worth returning to.

    The good news is out there, albeit under-reported: Kentucky’s state-run health exchange program has signed up nine percent of the uninsured population in just two months; California’s program is getting 10,000 registrants a day; roughly 7 million seniors nationwide have saved $8 billion on prescription meds since 2010, when the law closed a glaring Medicare loophole; Ohio’s Republican governor is expanding Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare, and Ohioans support the move by a margin of 11 percentage points; health insurance customers nationwide have saved $4 billion (via rebates) because, under Obamacare, companies that fail to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on health care are required to refund the difference.

    Those upbeat reports (and many more) don’t diminish the impact of the fumbled rollout; indeed, there’s no way that the federal website will be fully fixed by tomorrow (Nov. 30, as the feds essentially promised). The latest move-the-goalposts spin, from President Obama himself, is that the site is “working continually better,” which, by all accounts, is actually true (as far as it goes). Meanwhile, people with lousy coverage are indeed being canceled because the lousy coverage doesn’t meet Obamacare’s quality standards (despite Obama’s keep-your-plan spin). All told, as long as the gap between promise and performance persists, nervous Democrats will have a tough time crafting a good-news counter-narrative.

    Nevertheless, as evidenced by the CNN/ORC poll, most people still view health reform with an open mind, still refuse to root for failure. Clearly, they’d be rooting along with the Republicans if they shared the GOP’s belief that the status quo was awesome. But no, they’re hip to the fact that the status quo spawned all kinds of injustice – like refusing to cover people with pre-existing health conditions; like driving people into bankruptcy because of their medical debt; like dumping people’s coverage when they got really sick or when they hit their “lifetime coverage caps.” (Gee. Where was the right-wing outrage, over the years, when those cancellation letters went out?)

    So, going forward, we should track those public opinion nuances. Obama still has time to reward most Americans for their patience, to demonstrate that their optimism was warranted. Can he still turn the corner with his signature domestic achievement? Hey, if the accursed Detroit Lions can win on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 10 years, anything is possible.



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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